By Camilo Smith
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The political career of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros is likely as stiff and cold as his extramarital sexual relationship with former Texas Democratic fundraiser Linda Medlar. But judging from more than 200 pages of transcripts of their conversations -- compiled by Medlar with her trusty tape recorder and purchased from her for mass distribution by television's Inside Edition -- the real passion of these two people's lives together was politics, never mind those repeated sappy references to Fritos and hot soup on cold San Antonio nights at Medlar's pad.
In the phone conversations -- which Medlar apparently began secretly taping in late 1992, when Cisneros was being considered either for an unspecified Cabinet position in the Clinton administration or for appointment by Governor Ann Richards to the U.S. Senate seat Lloyd Bentsen was vacating -- the former San Antonio mayor waxes idealistic about how he'd like to save the nation's underclass ("This is the pits, drug addicts and alleyways of big cities; I'm goin' in there to do the dirty work"), while Medlar, when she isn't ragging her former lover for money, throws in caustic asides about Bill Clinton ("A fat Elvis ... ugly red face").
There's a very dark tragicomedy lurking in the transcripts, one that calls for a multiethnic Tracy-Hepburn pairing to bring to life on the big screen. Even after all of Medlar's threats, demands for money and deception, toward the end of the transcripts Cisneros professes: "Let me tell you something you're not going to believe. I trust you after all we've been through and everything that's been said .... I trust you with my life." To which Medlar sensibly replies: "I wouldn't go that far."
Cisneros acknowledged his affair with Medlar in 1988, during his last term as mayor. The physical relationship reportedly ended after he left office in 1989, although the still-married Cisneros has admitted making payments to Medlar before and after he was sworn in as Clinton's HUD secretary, including more than $50,000 since he joined the Cabinet in early 1993. Medlar, who moved to Lubbock with her daughter after the affair dissolved, sued Cisneros two months ago, claiming he reneged on a promise to continue monthly payments to her. The Justice Department is now weighing whether a criminal investigation is warranted to determine whether Cisneros, while the FBI was compiling its background check on him for his Cabinet post, misled the agency as to the purpose, source and amount of payments he was making to support Medlar. The role of shadowy Texas businessman Morris Jaffe in providing Medlar with loans is also in question.
But never mind the sex and money. It's the political ruminations of these two, conducted over highly insecure phone lines with who knows how many recorders whirring, that fascinates and informs.
Take, for instance, Cisneros' discussion of why he doesn't expect to be named HUD secretary. When Cisneros tells Medlar all the good Cabinet posts have been taken, she retorts, "Well, HUD isn't." Cisneros explains: "Yes, it is. It makes more sense to name a black ... that's who runs the cities these days." The ever-practical Medlar is nonplused: "Hispanics don't?" Answers Cisneros: "Not in the same number as blacks. The big cities north are black."
Medlar comes across as much more politically astute than Cisneros. From the beginning of the conversations, she counsels the ex-mayor that the continuing complications from their relationship and Cisneros' past relationships with other women make it impractical for him to take a national political post. As she points out and then goes on to prove bigtime, Cisneros cannot keep his mouth shut.
"I cannot believe the press doesn't know -- I know they do -- I mean you were the one who told that Marie Brenner [Vanity Fair writer] half your life history," Medlar says. Cisneros then hopefully observes that "the times have changed," provoking this gem from his ex-mistress about another alleged ex-mistress: "No, the times haven't changed Henry .... That Gennifer Flowers was some sort of lunatic bimbo who Clinton dumped at the last minute because he wanted to run for president. That's just the truth, and so she decided she was going to do something at that time." But Medlar, who isn't finished with Cisneros by a long shot, figures Clinton isn't out of the woods, either. "The deal isn't over with Clinton. He may be on a honeymoon right now, but it's not going to stay that way."
Medlar's instincts were also on-the-money when it came to Clinton's ill-fated nomination of Zoe Baird to be his attorney general. While Cisneros burbles about the prospect of the nation's first woman attorney general, Medlar is cool: "Like I said, I'd have to look into it before I say that's a good thing just because she's a woman."
In one conversation, Cisneros tells Medlar that Texas Comptroller John Sharp, a Catholic with a long record of opposition to abortion, won't be appointed by Richards to Bentsen's Senate seat because of his anti-abortion stance. But Sharp will be changing his position to run for governor in the future, Cisneros adds. "Good thing to go to hell for," laughs the keenly appraising Medlar.