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Has She Been Branded With the Scarlet 'A'? : Scandal: Linda Medlar says only $256,000 could help make up for what she says her celebrated affair with Henry Cisneros cost her--her career, husband and self-respect.

October 20, 1994|GUY GUGLIOTTA | THE WASHINGTON POST

LUBBOCK, Tex. — They might have made quite a pair, the big-haired blond Anglo fund-raiser and the elegant Latino mayor with the presidential ambitions, but they never got a chance to show it off.

Now in her mid 40s, Linda Medlar can still don a deep purple suit and make it work, but since her celebrated love affair with then-San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros made headlines six years ago, she has lost her career, lost her husband and, she said, lost her self-respect.

"You know, it was almost as if I wasn't a person--Henry was the star and I was expendable," she said in her lawyer's office. "That's just the way things are in this life."

Twice hospitalized and suffering from anxiety and depression, she is a brittle, teary caricature of the femme fatale she was once purported to be. With debts she said she can't pay, and jobs she can't get, she decided to take action.

In July, Medlar sued Cisneros for $256,000, conscience money she said Cisneros agreed to pay her for the heartache and destitution that she said has been her lot for so long. She said that she hates that she had to do it, and she hates the publicity it has brought her. She talks now because she said her story has never been told.

For Cisneros, as well, it has been a long road, but where Medlar has remained silent, he has talked. And talked. And talked. He acknowledged the affair when it became public, and he left City Hall rather than further complicate his life. Eventually, he and Medlar broke it off, and he put his marriage back together. While the experience was humiliating, he managed to salvage his reputation and turn himself into a figure of some sympathy.

He earned enough money to make payments to Medlar for four years, even after he decided to seek a position in the Clinton Administration. And he talked to the transition team and the FBI about the payments. It was "humanitarian assistance," they concluded, and Clinton made him Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, warts and all.

But now the Justice Department has opened a "preliminary inquiry" into whether Cisneros told the whole truth to the FBI.

And Cisneros has talked about that: "The essential facts were there at every step of the vetting process," he said. "We welcome the inquiry." An initial finding is scheduled by the end of this week.

The outcome for Cisneros is uncertain, but for Medlar it has already caused serious damage. She got several jobs, but quickly lost them, she said, when her employers found out who she was. Her lawyers contend that she fell victim to a double standard: Society could forgive Cisneros' marital indiscretion, but Medlar would be a scarlet woman for all time.

As Medlar tells it, the fateful agreement was made at her home in January, 1990. After a love affair that had lasted almost three years, she was out of money and no closer to marrying Cisneros than she had ever been. But the affair continued.

Cisneros understood that he had caused her grief, she said, and wanted to do the right thing. They agreed that he would pay $4,000 per month to support her and her teen-age daughter. This was a bit more than the $44,000 per year Medlar had earned working as a fund-raiser for Cisneros, and about what she thought she needed to run her household.

But only until I can get a job and get back on my feet, Medlar said.

"No, no," she quoted Cisneros as saying. "This is forever."

As far as she was concerned, the deal was a verbal contract "etched in stone."

Cisneros remembers it differently.

Yes, he thought he should help. But not forever: "I have said publicly before that the honorable course was to assist her as long as I could," Cisneros said in an interview.

In her lawsuit, Medlar alleged breach of contract when the payments stopped in 1993, saying the $256,000 would tide her over at $4,000 per month, including arrearage, until her daughter finished college in 1999.

Then, last month, she accepted a $15,000 fee to tell her story on the tabloid television program "Inside Edition." She also provided 14 transcripts of telephone conversations with Cisneros she began to tape secretly in late 1992. The Justice Department is comparing the tapes with the statements Cisneros made to the FBI before his January, 1993, confirmation hearings.

The fact that Cisneros made payments to Medlar may have been known to the Clinton Administration and the FBI--in all, he paid $213,000 over four years, including $55,000 in 1993 when he was a sitting Cabinet secretary. But the public didn't know until Medlar filed suit and talked on "Inside Edition."

She never wanted to ruin Cisneros, she said in a long interview in her lawyer's office. She went on "Inside Edition" because she was "desperate" for money for home mortgage payments, and she never thought that the show would play up her suspicion that Cisneros lied to the FBI. All she wants, she said, is for the payments to resume: "Logically, if Henry's career is over, it doesn't help me at all."

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