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Cisneros and Medlar: Divergent Tales of a Love Affair Gone Bad

October 20, 1994|GUY GUGLIOTTA | THE WASHINGTON POST

LUBBOCK, Tex. — Honor and fairness loomed large in the affair between then-San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and Linda Medlar, almost from the moment in March, 1987, when it began after a New York fund-raising reception, a limousine trip around town and a carriage ride in snowy Central Park.

Both were married, Cisneros since 1969 to his high school sweetheart, Mary Alice Perez, and Medlar to San Antonio jeweler Stanley Medlar.

When the affair began, Cisneros had two teen-age daughters, and Mary Alice was pregnant with the couple's third child. Medlar had a young daughter.

Three months after the affair began, Mary Alice gave birth to a son, John Paul. The boy, named after the Pope, had a two-chambered heart and transposed great arteries, a potentially fatal congenital disability that would eventually require difficult surgery.

"Henry was devastated, not only because of his son . . . but also because we had to figure out how to encompass John Paul into our future plans," Medlar said. "He thought there was a way to do it . . . being a private person for a while, spending as much time as he could with John Paul, and he and Mary Alice coming to some sort of agreement."

*

It was at this point that the two stories of the affair begin to diverge. The "future plan," Medlar said, involved Cisneros divorcing Mary Alice and marrying her.

But Cisneros was conflicted. Yes, he was in love with Medlar, and, yes, he and Mary Alice had had problems for years, but he also had his political career and now there was John Paul, arriving like a warning from God to mend his ways. (John Paul's heart was rebuilt at a Philadelphia hospital in mid 1993, and he is making "a miraculous recovery," his father said.)

Unbeknown to Medlar, Cisneros began talking about the affair to San Antonio reporters, swearing them to secrecy and then describing the agonies he was enduring. These confessions bought the pair 19 months of public silence.

Medlar insists she simply went about her business, blithely unaware that the whole town was talking about her liaison. She gave no interviews and saw Cisneros when she could.

One who soon found out about the affair, Medlar said, was Mary Alice. In August, 1987, Cisneros quietly fired Medlar and terminated efforts to explore a possible gubernatorial candidacy. Medlar was fired, she suspects, because Mary Alice insisted. (Mary Alice declined to be interviewed for this story because of the Justice Department inquiry involving her husband.)

Then in September, 1987, Cisneros announced that he would not seek a fifth two-year term as mayor, citing his desire to spend more time with John Paul and a need to make more money than his speaking fees and his $4,500-per-year mayor's stipend provided. He didn't mention Medlar.

He didn't have to. On Oct. 14 the San Antonio Express-News ran a story under the banner headline "Cisneros Confesses Deep Love for Medlar," provoking a citywide feeding frenzy as newspapers and broadcasters finally published what they had known for months.

Cisneros handled the scandal with aplomb, acknowledging the affair, refusing to blame reporters for invading his personal life, and asking for "time to work it out."

The confession was the stuff of tabloid dreams, but it also had a purgative effect, for once Cisneros told the story, the game, it seemed, was over. He had sinned, confessed and sacrificed his job--done the honorable thing. When the FBI asked him five years later about payments to Medlar, he could say honestly, "It wasn't hush money--there was nothing to hush."

But what about Medlar? The day the story broke, "I got a call from one of my best friends, who told me I was the most hated woman in Texas," she said. "Everybody thought I had gone to the press, which was just not true."

San Antonio immediately tagged her as the "home breaker" who had cost the city's favorite son his career, she said. But, she added, she was the one who lost two fund-raising jobs within eight hours after the initial story appeared and the one whose spouse filed for divorce.

Medlar had no job--hasn't found meaningful work since--and simply waited for Cisneros' divorce and for her dreams to become reality. She said Cisneros lived with her for 11 months beginning in December, 1988, and insisted that she not contest her own divorce, because "if it was messy, it would bring Henry into it."

And why bother? "He said that, of course, we were going to be together, and I didn't need anything from Stan," Medlar said. So she got no alimony or child support, and she gave back everything, she said, including the Mercedes and the Rolex watch.

*

Cisneros said he lived in an apartment during the period, not with Medlar, and denies ever putting pressure on her over her divorce: "She made those decisions basically on her own."

Also, he added, "there were serious misgivings on my part" about what he should do. Continuing the affair was going to "disrupt the lives of a lot of people."

Feeling "a profound sense of loss," he said, he told Medlar of his doubts around Thanksgiving, 1989. Soon after that, he traveled to Houston for a gall bladder operation, then left the hospital with Mary Alice and moved back home.

Medlar, stung and hurting, refused for weeks to see Cisneros, who, she said, was calling her constantly and had left Christmas presents on her doorstep.

In January, she finally agreed to see him and in a long tortured conversation, she and Cisneros worked out the payment plan. But it wasn't over yet.

Cisneros continued to see Medlar, first in San Antonio, then after Medlar moved back to her home town of Lubbock. The affair did not end until 1991, when Mary Alice filed for divorce and named Medlar as a co-respondent. Cisneros stopped seeing Medlar, and the divorce filing was dropped.

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