A Mexican-American to the fore in San Antonio

It was supposed to have been only a modest election victory, if even that. But in snapping up a remarkable 62 percent of the vote, new San Antonio Mayor Henry Gabriel Cisneros hammered together the type of broad-based coalition that politicians only privately dream of -- and yet of which thriving cities are usually made.

The Cisneros victory is both personal and symbolic of deeper changes at work in American cities. Mr. Cisneros becomes the first Mexican-American mayor of a mayor US community, in this case the nation's ninth largest city -- which itself has a Hispanic majority. Yet Mr. Cisneros, although he still maintains his home on the city's predominantly Spanish-surname West Side, is a product of the "Americanization process" that at its best has prepared the way for countless descendants of immigrant families to rise into positions of responsibility and success.

Armed with degrees from three universities, Mr. Cisneros advocates new economic development for San Antonio. Only by doing so, he argues, can the Hispanic population really share in the city's economic and political processes. His main opponent had called for slower development, a position that in growth-oriented, go-go Texas, almost invariably raises arched eyebrows and unease.

Mr. Cisneros will have his work more than cut out for him during the months ahead for a cty that is still most known by its historic Alamo, where Anglos and Mexicans once waged a grim battle over Texan independence. His initial task will likely involve serving as a bridgebuilding, conciliatory force helping to hold together the new city council. Mexican-Americans and blacks wield a 6 to 5 majority in that chamber. But the city's dominant economic power structure remains overwhelmingly in the hands of Anglos.

Still, by coming close to carrying the Anglo North Side, Mr. Cisneros starts out with a solid reserve of good will. Other US cities have shown that government -- and a sense of community -- can be strengthened and rejuvenated by such a "turn" of the political wheel from one dominant ethnic majority to another. Certainly, the outlook for San Antonio at the begin ning of the 1980s looks increasingly promising.

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