Four years ago, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros was on a short list of Democratic vice-presidential contenders and was frequently identified as perhaps the nation's most promising Hispanic political leader. But on Monday Mr. Cisneros took another in a series of steps away from the national political spotlight by announcing he would not seek another term next spring as head of the nation's ninth-largest city.
``I really need a breath of fresh air,'' the four-term mayor said.
More than any San Antonio leader, Cisneros adroitly steered his majority-Hispanic hometown away from deep racial and economic rifts to a ``politics of inclusion.'' His success, along with a fair dose of charisma, made him a model of urban leadership.
``Henry's worked very hard to be inclusive,'' says Ernesto Cortes, who directs a network of grass-roots community organizations in Texas. ``He's worked to broaden the circle in which decisions are made, and I think that's an important contribution.''
But after 14 years in city politics - he was first elected to the City Council in 1975 at age 27 - Cisneros said it was time to move on.
The mayor said he is considering offers from the private sector. He added that he wants to earn more money - the mayor's position pays less than $5,000, which he supplements with speaking engagements and a university lecture post - to meet his family's growing financial needs, including medical expenses for a young son with a heart defect. Cisneros denied speculation that his decision was based in part on rumored marital problems.
Last year Cisneros stunned Texas political circles by publicly ruling out any campaign for higher office in 1990. He had figured at the top of pundits' lists of likely gubernatorial and senatorial candidates. This year his decision not to accept an invitation to address the Democratic National Convention caused some Hispanic leaders to grumble that Cisneros was wasting opportunities to elevate Hispanics' national prominence.
Cisneros said he would actively campaign for Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. Some observers suggest that Cisneros, whose enthusiasm for public policy - and limelight - runs high, might be persuaded to join an eventual Dukakis administration, perhaps in urban affairs.