SAN ANTONIO — Halfway into a city council meeting, Henry Cisneros leaves the chambers and walks across the Mexican-tiled hallway to his office, its outer security door serving to politely scrape off the doting crowd that the mayor of San Antonio invariably accumulates like a human snowball wherever he moves.
He closes the door of his office, a corner one on the ground floor, then slides Pavarotti off the stereo and cranks up some rock 'n' roll.
Outside, a staff member cocks his head and listens. After more than seven years, they can usually gauge the mayor's moods by the music he plays: the Aggie fight song from his alma mater, Texas A&M; a Verdi opera; a march by Sousa.
Through the paneled walls, through the bookcases with their carefully labeled shelves of "art, urban affairs, philosophy, crime" as well as volumes praising the person and accomplishments of Henry Cisneros, the rhythm pulses.
It is a Beach Boys song, "Good Vibrations." And just what \o7 that\f7 might mean, no one can hazard a guess. For these are unprecedented days in the life of the brilliant young Latino mayor of the nation's ninth-largest city.
Not two weeks earlier, in an extraordinary 45-minute \o7 mea culpa \f7 at the gate of his gray clapboard house, faced with morning headlines about an extramarital affair, he took a deep breath and began to talk.
He acknowledged that among all the bizarre rumors this town had been chewing over for months like a stick of Doublemint, this much was true: there were longtime difficulties in his 19-year marriage, and he was involved with a woman who is not his wife.
'Dark Poetry' of His Life
It was the \o7 envoi \f7 of what Cisneros, 41, had recently characterized as the "dark poetry" of his life of late. In just the last 18 months, he had hosted the Pope and the king of Spain, fathered a son who is gravely ill, become enamored of this other woman, bailed out of plans to campaign for governor, turned down an offer to address the Democratic National Convention, and finally chose not even to stand for a fifth term as mayor.
This was not just a minor embarrassing froth in an up-and-coming Sun Belt city. This was not just the lame-duck mayor of some South Texas burg doing penance at his fence--characteristically, the only white picket fence the length of West Houston Street.
Because for nearly 15 years, Henry Cisneros--whether he liked it or not, and usually he did--has been a publicly traded corporation in which thousands of people bought emotional and political stock:
Latinos nationwide saw in Cisneros the able new crossover politician to carry them forward. Local families put up his poster alongside portraits of President John F. Kennedy. City leaders cheered Cisneros' genius in bringing unity and a new can-do spirit to the city.
He was backed by booted and suited Texas money men who know politicians as well as they know horses and don't stake money ill-advisedly on either. National political observers had been tracking his progress for years.
At a public forum here last week, one speaker, resident Bob Rios, with an edge of sarcasm but no want of truth, limned Cisneros' political aura--"mayor slash hero slash maybe next governor slash maybe President."
Hence, this was not just a mayor of San Antonio, said a local journalist. This was the future.
And the morning that a local paper headlined "Cisneros Confesses Deep Love for Medlar"--the splashiest from three days of news stories that had broached the matter--the future stood on his front lawn and opened his veins.
'New Rules of the Game'
"Given what public life is today and the new rules of the game where absolutely everything is public, all I would ask for is understanding. . . . I'm sorry that as leader of the community, San Antonio and my name go together on these problems. I guess human beings just aren't made of plastic and wiring and metal; they're made of flesh and blood and feelings."
The man a Texas magazine once said resembled an Aztec lord all but laid his own heart on the altar of public judgment, while acting out the credo of the early Puritans: public confession, public contrition, public forgiveness.
"It's hard to believe," said a 20-year-old local Air Force brat who watched him on TV. "Here he is admitting adultery, and when he's done, you're saying, 'Oh poor Henry.' "
If it was, as one Texas columnist adjudged it, the soliloquy of "a Tex-Mex Hamlet," it demanded a glossary the Prince of Denmark never knew: burnout and stress and mid-life crisis.
Ruben Munguia Sr. is Cisneros' uncle and early political guru, and although he is not pleased at his promising nephew's impolitic frankness, he nonetheless feels constrained to ask: "Don't all of us play Hamlet at one time or another?"
In a frame that has found a place on just about every desk Henry Cisneros has used in public life is a speech by Robert F. Kennedy.