Cisneros a still-bright, yet tarnished, star Former mayor's '80s marital woes still haunt him

December 18, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A decade ago, he was hailed as the perfect politician for the '80s -- an energetic, young Latino with Harvard credentials, populist appeal and movie-idol looks. His future was never in doubt. He would be mayor, senator, vice president and -- maybe, in time -- president of the United States.

But Henry G. Cisneros -- now designated to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development -- has never gotten further in elected office than his four terms as mayor of San Antonio.

As it turned out, the rising star of the '80s was sidetracked by what will surely go down in history as the political plague of that decade: An embarrassing, highly publicized extramarital affair. In Mr. Cisneros decided not to run for a fifth term and openly confessed to being in love with a woman who was not his wife. But perhaps because Mr. Cisneros' star shone so brightly, it was not extinguished by scandal.

Mr. Cisneros' Cabinet nomination by President-elect Bill Clinton is one step in a slow process of political rehabilitation that has been under way ever since his remarkable public confession four years ago. It is an opportunity for him to reclaim at least some of the promise that he once offered for his many well-wishers across the country.

But, even though it is a positive move for Mr. Cisneros, 45, the nomination is sensitive for the president-elect because the nominee's personal problems echo questions

raised about Mr. Clinton during the campaign.

Although some of Mr. Cisneros' youthful purpose may have been squandered, he is still viewed by those who know him as the same intelligent, thoughtful guru of urban policy that first caught national attention more than a decade ago. As a result, his nomination to Cabinet rank in the new Democratic administration is being hailed as a positive development by mayors and municipal leaders.

But despite the broad praise, Mr. Cisneros was not without his mayoral failures, none of which looms larger than his attempt to revitalize a poor area of town by creating a shopping area that would entice more visitors to San Antonio, already a popular tourist destination. The Vista Verde project received more than $20 million in federal support. Today, it is boarded up, and the developer is bankrupt.

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