Cisneros resigns Cabinet position Housing chief gives no reason

Schmoke denies candidacy

November 22, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers John B. O'Donnell and JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros -- one of President Clinton's closest advisers, whose tenure was clouded by a messy personal life -- announced his departure from the administration yesterday.

Cisneros became the seventh member of the 14-person Clinton Cabinet to announce plans not to return for the president's second term.

In a one-page letter to Clinton, Cisneros, a 49-year-old former mayor of San Antonio, gave no reason for his departure, which had been expected. He said only that he had "concluded that I cannot ask to be considered for service in the next four years."

Several mayors have been mentioned as potential successors for the top post at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore, who has been considered a possible, though not a front-running, candidate.

Schmoke has steadfastly denied that he is headed to Washington. Last night, he again dismissed the notion, saying he is not among several mayors with whom Cisneros has recently discussed the HUD job. Schmoke said he last spoke with the housing secretary before the Nov. 5 elections.

In 1992, Schmoke declined when asked by Clinton transition officials whether he would like to be consideredfor HUD secretary. But he submitted a list of recommended names that included Cisneros.

Thanks in part to Schmoke's close ties to Clinton and to the president's lopsided victory in Maryland in the 1992 election, Baltimore emerged as one of Cisneros' favorite cities. He was a ** frequent visitor as his department showered the city with millions of dollars in new aid.

Speaking by telephone to reporters yesterday, Cisneros suggested that financial considerations had played a role in his decision to leave.

He mentioned that he has two college-age daughters -- one of whom is in law school -- and had to consider what he could earn in the private sector vs. his continued government service in a position that pays $148,400 a year.

The secretary, who generally won high marks for his stewardship of the housing department, also has mounting legal bills from an independent counsel's investigation of him that has been going on for more than two years.

At the heart of the inquiry is whether Cisneros lied to the FBI during his background investigation for the Cabinet position, when he was asked about his payments to a woman, Linda Medlar, with whom he had a well-publicized extramarital affair in the late 1980s.

In phone conversations between Cisneros and Medlar in 1992 and 1993, secretly taped by Medlar and sold to a tabloid TV show, they discussed payments to her amounting to about $200,000. But Cisneros told the FBI that he had been paying Medlar "no more than $10,000 a year" from 1990 to 1993.

The independent counsel is examining whether Cisneros and Medlar conspired to conceal information regarding the payments.

Although Cisneros made no mention of the case in his letter to Clinton, the investigation, which could have cast a long shadow over his second term, was reportedly a consideration in his decision to leave the administration.

Among Cabinet officials, Cisneros has been one of Clinton's favorites and one of his links to the nation's Hispanic community.

"The president thanks the secretary for the outstanding work he's done at HUD and for being a good friend," Barry Toiv, a White House spokesman, said last night. In his nearly four years as HUD secretary, Cisneros presided over the demolition of many decaying urban apartment buildings and pushed programs intended to improve public housing and expand home ownership.

For Baltimore, the high-water mark of the Cisneros tenure came in 1994, when he announced that the city was one of six to receive a $100 million empowerment-zone grant intended to set off revitalization in some of the city's worst decaying areas.

Baltimore has led the way in pursuing Cisneros' goal of demolishing large housing projects and spreading tenants through metropolitan regions. He traveled to Baltimore in July to witness the explosion that destroyed five high-rise buildings at the Lexington Terrace public housing project.

In recent days, some administration officials have been backing Cisneros to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. But Cisneros said yesterday that he had "no settled plans."

In his phone call with reporters, Cisneros said he has had conversations with several mayors mentioned as possible successors, including Norm Rice of Seattle, Dennis W. Archer of Detroit and Bill Campbell of Atlanta.

Another name mentioned as a possible successor is Andrew Cuomo, an assistant secretary at HUD and a son of former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York.

In his letter to Clinton, Cisneros praised the president for his "willingness to invest in community building," an effort that, he said, resulted in the end of the "decades-long free fall of America's cities."

"Though I would like to help build on the progress we have made on issues ranging from housing for the mentally ill homeless to the transformation of public housing, from empowerment zones to breakthroughs in the national rate of homeownership, I have concluded that I cannot ask to be considered for service in the next four years," Cisneros wrote.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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