SAN ANTONIO — At first, there was only a smattering of applause when the priest told his congregation that Henry G. Cisneros had done the right thing.
Then more parishioners began to clap, and more still. People stood up in the pews of San Fernando Cathedral. The din was thunderous. And Mayor Cisneros was not even in attendance to bask in the ovation, one that would make any politician's heart glad.
Father Virgil Elizando had told his flock that Cisneros, the best-known Latino politician in the country, had done honor to himself by putting family before politics.
Pressures Too Intense
Cisneros, San Antonio's mayor for six years and once the odds-on favorite to be the Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1990, had announced in mid-August that he would not be running for statewide office that year. The pressures of a campaign would be too intense at a time when he did not need more burdens.
John Paul Anthony, his infant son, was a major reason for Cisneros' decision. The baby, born in June, has no spleen and a heart with only two valves, instead of four, as well as other birth defects. The prognosis is bleak. Without major medical advances, John Paul--named for the Pope, who will visit here this month--is not expected to live more than seven years.
Concern for the child's health has added complications to an already complicated life, and Cisneros says he is unwilling to begin a campaign that will require months of fund raising and attendance at hundreds of events away from the city.
Speeding Up Treadmill
"The stresses in the family at the moment are not compatible with the heightened pace and pressure that would be caused by turning up the speed on the treadmill," Cisneros said in an interview this week. "You can't put your head in both places."
But Cisneros stressed that there were also political reasons for his decision. He said he had decided not to run partly because he could already feel the pressure mounting for him to make the commitment and begin campaigning for the governorship, even though the election is three years off. And, along with that, he said, he could see the first hints that there would be attacks on his programs in San Antonio when it was presumed he would be running for higher office.
"The cracks were forming," he said. "You've got to fight these rear-guard actions."
By making his announcement so early, Cisneros has thrown Texas politics into a dither. The other Democrat who had been considered a front-runner, Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby Jr., withdrew his name from the governor's race in late July so that he could concentrate on trying to help find a remedy for the state's slack economy.
State Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, one of the other possible Democratic candidates, said it is still too early to be sure that both Cisneros and Hobby will not run, despite their announcements. But he said also that the withdrawals had changed the political climate in the Democratic Party. "It forces people onto a faster track," he said.
Cisneros has himself been on a fast track since his election to the mayor's office in 1981. From that perch, he has carved out a niche as an eloquent spokesman for Latinos. He was a finalist among those being considered to be Walter F. Mondale's running mate during the 1984 presidential campaign.
On Cover of Magazine
His 40th birthday was enough to make him the cover story of the September edition of Texas Monthly magazine, where he is pictured with his son and labeled as "Texas' political superstar."
Sitting in his office this week, talking about the hundreds of letters he has received from well-wishers since he made his announcement, Cisneros was at times reflective and at others slightly defensive. He said he was uncomfortable with the way his decision not to run had been treated--that it was very much a practical decision made after weighing all the arguments.
"It's much simpler and much less virtuous than people try to make it," he said. Simply put, he said, the stresses within his family cannot be addressed under the pressure of kicking off another campaign.
Cisneros believes that since the birth of his son he has become more organized and has thrown himself into his work with greater intensity. He said he has set out five major goals, a prominent one being the construction of a domed stadium for the city. He writes out what work he must complete by the end of each day for each program. He has to work hard, he said, because the clock is ticking down should he choose not to run again for mayor in 1989.
Possible Cabinet Job
Nevertheless, the mayor said, he has not ruled out the possibility of a Cabinet appointment in the next federal Administration. And, there are other opportunities he might pursue, but it is too early to make any decisions. "We'll assess those as the time approaches," he said.
Cisneros talked also of the difficulties of running a campaign, of the special interests "incapable of looking at the big picture," of the problems of getting a message across.
"That's a very difficult world to live in," he said. "I think you have to care about the country and public problems an awful lot, and you'd better have some higher motives than climbing the ladder."