Clinton names ex-mayor, veteran to Cabinet posts

December 18, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Filling in a few more of the blanks in his emerging administration, President-elect Bill Clinton added two to his Cabinet table yesterday, with more names expected to be announced tomorrow.

Acting on his promise to promote diversity within his top ranks, Mr. Clinton tapped Henry Cisneros, a 45-year-old former mayor of San Antonio, the first Hispanic appointed to a high-level post by the president-elect, to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He also named Jesse Brown, 48, executive director of the Washington office of Disabled American Veterans, as secretary of veterans affairs, making his second appointment of a black to his inner circle.

Mr. Clinton is expected to continue adding to the roster over the next few days and to name a longtime political ally, former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley, to lead the Education Department.

It has also been reported that, as expected, the president-elect has settled on Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin as his secretary of defense. William Daley, a Chicago banker who is thought to be the front-runner for transportation secretary, met with Mr. Clinton Wednesday night.

At a news conference yesterday, the first in an expected string of pre-Christmas announcements, Mr. Clinton said his two latest Cabinet appointees -- along with Hershel Gober, a veterans leader from Arkansas whom he named deputy secretary of veterans affairs -- represented "the best in a new generation of policy leaders."

Mr. Cisneros, the first Hispanic mayor of a large U.S. city, campaigned vigorously for Mr. Clinton throughout Texas -- sometimes leading rallies in Spanish in the southern part of the state -- and has been a member of his transition board.

Like the president-elect, the four-term former mayor is a scholarly sort of politician, with a gold-plated resume of universities and advanced degrees, and is widely considered the most dynamic politician in his home state.

In recent weeks, he has been pressed by Texas Democrats to run for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Lloyd Bentsen, the treasury secretary-designate.

Many Texans expressed surprise that the ambitious and popular Mr. Cisneros would pass up a shot at the Senate, which is thought to be a faster track to higher office.

In brief comments yesterday, Mr. Cisneros said he had experienced "a sense of urgency" about the nation's challenges throughout the past year -- through his visits to Los Angeles after the riots and along the campaign trail.

"I sense that we have limited time for America -- that we cannot talk about the economy and not talk about our cities and towns," he said.

Mr. Cisneros, credited with the revitalization of San Antonio and the uniting of Hispanic and Anglo constituencies there, bowed out of public life in 1989, citing personal reasons that included an admitted and highly publicized extramarital relationship.

Since then, he has remained a high-profile advocate of economic development in the cities. Yesterday, Mr. Clinton called him "a visionary leader who will bring fresh energy to an agency that badly needs reform and revitalization."

And Vice President-elect Al Gore said the former mayor was highly touted by James W. Rouse, the Columbia developer who is head of the non-profit Enterprise Foundation, at this week's economic conference here.

But Mr. Cisneros, who introduced his wife and three children at yesterday's news conference, could come under intense scrutiny during the Senate confirmation hearings of the Cabinet appointees because of the touch of scandal.

Bob Dole, the Senate minority leader, reportedly has asked his fellow Republicans to look closely at the Clinton appointees and to scrutinize them as intently as the Democrats did the late John G. Tower, the Bush appointee for defense secretary who was rejected in 1989 because of allegations of excessive drinking and improper behavior toward women.

Asked about the possibility of heated confirmation hearings planned by Republicans, Mr. Clinton said yesterday: "We will simply try to be ready for the hearings and do a good job. . . . I think as long as the hearings are thorough and rigorous, within bounds, I think they [the American people] will appreciate that.

"I think that if they go beyond the pale, then the American people will have a judgment about that. I expect [the nominees] to be treated fairly and appropriately."

The possible appointment of retiring Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado as energy secretary reportedly has hit a snag, partly because of concern that the Democrat's ties to industries he has championed -- such as cable television -- would provide grist for a confirmation panel.

Yesterday's nomination of Jesse Brown, who follows Ron Brown, the Democratic national chairman, as the second appointment of a black to the Cabinet, was widely hailed by veterans groups.

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