Booming San Antonio seen as the `Atlanta of the '80s'. Surge helps Hispanics, who increasingly lead city
``Hyperbole'' is a word that comes to mind when a mayor speaks of his city as verging on greatness. But when the mayor in question is Henry Cisneros, one can rest assured that people are going to listen. Mr. Cisneros, mayor of San Antonio since 1981, past president of the National League of Cities, and a rising national star in the Democratic Party, says that every few years a ``critical mass'' of talent, determination, momentum, and interest develops to thrust a city onto the national scene. With the certitude of a general, Henry Cisneros has dubbed 1988 as San Antonio's ``year of emergence.''Skip to next paragraph
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Surveying next month's opening here of Sea World of Texas, the world's largest aquatic entertainment park; downtown's recently opened Rivercenter shopping complex; progress on the city's 1,500-acre research park; and negotiations between business and education leaders to bolster the city's schools, Cisneros says, ``We've got our engines fired.''
The Hispanic mayor of the ninth-largest city in the US likens San Antonio's arrival on the national stage to the ``burst of interest'' in Atlanta in the 1960s, when that city was anointed the capital of a new South. He also notes that special attention was paid to the role blacks were playing in Atlanta's bloom.
Today Cisneros sees his city's ``emergence'' as equally important to Hispanics, who make up just under 55 percent of San Antonio's population of 920,000. ``There is a minority participation in the economic momentum and a stake in the decisionmaking process in this city that in a sense is as important to Hispanics as the progress and growth of Atlanta was to blacks two decades ago,'' he says.
San Antonio is represented by two Hispanic congressmen, and five of 11 City Council members belong to minorities, as do many prominent business, education, and religious leaders. Although the city's per capita income remains below national levels, average increases in recent years have outstripped national gains.
There is a recognition throughout this city and beyond that San Antonio is fortunate to have an internationally recognized spokesman like Cisneros.
``In a city where everyone's pulling together, he's the single most important element,'' says developer Martin Winder, who is credited with opening up the northwest section of the city to Sea World, a huge VLSI Technology microchip plant, and the Texas Research Park. Adds Ernesto Cortes, a nationally recognized community organizer based in Austin, ``He's certainly been one of the more effective mayors, extremely successful in projecting San Antonio as a desirable place to live and do business.''
But there is some disagreement with what Mr. Cortes calls Cisneros's emphasis on ``big-ticket items.''
The most recent example of that is the mayor's incessant bargaining for a downtown ``Alamodome'' that Cisneros says would bring increased national exposure to San Antonio through larger conventions, entertainment programs, and perhaps a National Football League franchise by the time the stadium opened in 1991.
``Before the stadium, the mayor was looking more at the areas that will produce good jobs for the citizens of San Antonio,'' says Patricia Ozuna, one of five co-chairs of the city's influential COPS, or Communities Organized for Public Service, a grass-roots organization representing the city's sizable poor and working-class populations.
``I don't believe he's forgotten, but it would be good if he got back to jobs that support families,'' Ms. Ozuna says.