Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Henry Cisneros was struck with a passion for public serv¬ ice. He attended Catholic school in his home¬ town, and in 1964, he enrolled at Texas A&M University. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1968, and he immediately took a job in the pub¬ lic policy arena.
Cisneros went to work as an analyst for the Lyndon B. Johnson Model Cities Program for Urban Revitalization. In 1970, he became an administrative assistant to the executive vice president of the National League of Cities. The following year, he took a job as a White House Fellow.
In the early 1970s, Cisneros enrolled in the master’s program in public administration at Harvard University, specializing in urban and regional planning. He earned his degree in 1974 and, a few years later, received his Ph.D. from George Washington University. He then returned to his hometown as a faculty member of the University of Texas at San Antonio in the division of environmental studies.
At the same time, Cisneros became involved in civic affairs. In 1975, at the age of twenty- seven, he became the youngest council mem¬ ber in the history of San Antonio. He was reelected twice, and in 1981, as an independ¬ ent candidate, he was elected mayor. He was the First Mexican American mayor of San Antonio since Juan N. Seguin (see no. 12) in 1842 and the first Hispanic mayor of a major LJ.S. city.
He was reelected three times.As a council member and mayor, Cisneros was known for being a nonpartisan consensus builder. His policies combined economic development with sensitivity to ethnic issues. His leadership helped revitalize the city and drew greater national attention to the issues of Latinos and the urban poor.
In 1992, U.S. president Bill Clinton appointed Cisneros Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Cisneros took over a troubled organization and had to address the pressing problems of homelessness, mortgage discrimination, and fair housing.
During his tenure, Cisneros advocated suburban housing projects as a means of reducing the concentra¬ tion of minorities in inner-city ghettos.Unfortunately, Cisneros’s service at HUD was tainted by scandal. In 1997, he resigned from the post under pressure stemming from charges that he had lied to the FBI about pay¬ offs he made to a woman with whom he had once been romantically involved.
He eventual¬ ly pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined ten thousand dollars. President Clinton par¬ doned him a few years later.After stepping down, Cisneros became the president and chief executive officer of the Spanish-language television network Univision. In 2000, he founded American City Vista, which develops affordable housing within neglected, inner-city areas.