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Regarding Henry
The HUD Secretary's Unforgettable Affair

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 1994; Page C01

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. And they almost certainly never will.

Now in her mid-forties, 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 says, 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 says 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 says Cisneros agreed to pay her for the heartache and destitution that she says 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 says 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 for him, 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 roll the dice and 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 is trying to decide whether to open an investigation 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's 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.

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 teenage 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 felt 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 never thought the show would play up her suspicion that Cisneros lied to the FBI. All she wants, she said, is for the payments to resume, and "logically, if Henry's career is over, it doesn't help me at all."

A Warning From God?

Honor and fairness loomed large in the Cisneros-Medlar affair, 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.

Not yet 40, Cisneros already had people touting him as potentially the first Latino president of the United States. He was in his third term as San Antonio mayor, a striking man and a compelling speaker who entertained thoughts of running for governor of Texas. Medlar was a year younger, handsome, willowy, with a blossoming career as a political fund-raiser. She had started working for Cisneros in 1986.

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 teenage daughters, and Mary Alice was pregnant with the couple's third child. Medlar had a young daughter.

Children made a difference to both Cisneros and Medlar. In the coming years, Medlar said, she would make many decisions -- about moving, about working and ultimately about suing Cisneros -- on the basis of what she thought was best for her daughter.

With Cisneros it was more complicated. Three months after the affair began, Mary Alice gave birth to a son, John Paul. The boy, named after the pope, was outwardly healthy, but had a two-chambered heart and transposed great arteries, a potentially fatal birth defect 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," according to Medlar, 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.

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 pending Justice Department inquiry involving her husband.)

Then in September 1987, Cisneros announced 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.

But he didn't have to. On Oct. 14 the San Antonio Express-News bannered a story under the 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.

And while Cisneros sought redemption in the public spotlight, Medlar hunkered down, hoping that the whole mess would go away: "I'm not accustomed to laying my life in front of the press, as a lot of politicians like Henry and a lot of other people are. I could never see myself doing that."

Medlar had no jobs -- hasn't found meaningful work since -- and simply waited for Cisneros's 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 corespondent. Cisneros stopped seeing Medlar, and the divorce filing was dropped. By this time, on the advice of a friend, Medlar was taping all her telephone conversations with Cisneros.

Still, the payments kept coming. The investment company Cisneros organized did well, and supporting Medlar did not seem a problem. And she continued to need the money.

The Tale of the Tapes

By late 1992, when the "Inside Edition" tapes begin, it is clear that while Cisneros and Medlar still shared intimacies on the telephone, they had also begun to talk past each other.

Medlar said that she knew for several months that Cisneros, deeply involved in the Clinton campaign, would seek a job in the new administration. "It was what he had been thirsting for all these years."

For Medlar this was bad news. From a job where, by his own estimate, he was earning in the neighborhood of $350,000 per year, Cisneros would go to a salaried position with virtually no outside income.

"If you do it," she told him on a tape, "there's no way to work out the financial."

"Well," he replied, "it's a problem, but my alternative is to die on the vine."

Knowing that she was fighting a losing battle, Medlar listed reasons why Cisneros shouldn't take a Cabinet job. She mentioned other alleged extramarital affairs and brought up a $10,000 cash payment he supposedly accepted from Texas developer Morris Jaffe while he served as mayor. Cisneros repeatedly denied any indiscretions with either women or money.

A simple reading of the transcripts suggests that Medlar was trying to get Cisneros to incriminate himself on tape, but Medlar says no. In fact, she says, she felt that Cisneros was blaming her for his political eclipse. She was simply trying to point out other skeletons in his closet.

She says now that she never saw $10,000 changing hands, and knew of this and the other alleged problems only from conversations she had had with Cisneros.

What is clear from the tapes, however, is that Cisneros was desperately worried that his financial arrangement with Medlar could sink his political hopes. This took on greater significance on Dec. 2, 1992, when he phoned Medlar to tell her about a 2 1/2-hour conversation earlier in the day with Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

Clinton was planning to make Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen his treasury secretary, and Richards needed to appoint someone to fill the Senate slot -- a Democrat who could subsequently win the seat in an open election. Cisneros was a natural choice, and Richards called him in to talk about it.

"I told her everything she needed to know to make the call," Cisneros said on the tapes, including the payments. "She's concerned about the money, and convinced that that's a killer." Cisneros said he was not particularly interested in the Senate anyway.

Ten days later things changed. Clinton picked Cisneros to be HUD secretary, and the vetting process had begun. First the transition team sent Webster Hubbell to talk to Cisneros, and Cisneros told Hubbell about the payments.

But he appeared to low-ball the numbers: "I told them, well, it came to $10,000-$15,000 over a year," he said to Medlar. While it is clear that Cisneros never knew exactly how much he had paid, he later acknowledged much more than $15,000 -- closer to $50,000 per year.

Regardless of the amount, Cisneros came away from the vetting convinced that his appointment would be torpedoed: "I think Clinton will have problems," he told Medlar. "I feel like I'm not going to be nominated."

But, Medlar said, "If you had never said anything about it ..."

"I couldn't afford to do that," he replied. There was too much risk that it would come out later, blindsiding the administration.

The transition team digested Hubbell's report, and approved the appointment, but Cisneros did not relax. With confirmation hearings coming up, the FBI was "crawling all over everything," he told Medlar in a conversation dated Jan. 4, 1993.

Cisneros was surprised that no one had been to see Medlar, and worried what she might tell the investigators. But, he said, "let me tell you something you're not going to believe. I trust you. ... I trust you with my life."

"I wouldn't go that far," Medlar replied.

"Well, this is my life, it's on the line," he said. "If they {the FBI} knock me out, man, I am wiped."

But they didn't knock him out. The FBI never talked to Medlar, and the investigators decided the payments were "assistance, understandable under the circumstances," Cisneros told Medlar in mid-January. They had decided that Cisneros had paid Medlar $60,000, "virtually the truth," he said.

As a grand total for three years, however, $60,000 was not accurate, but Cisneros said in a recent interview that he understood the FBI meant $60,000 "a year." The Justice Department presumably is checking the record.

During 1993, Cisneros made three payments to Medlar totaling $55,000, then stopped, saying he could no longer afford them on his $148,400 Cabinet salary. Medlar said she has not spoken with Cisneros since late 1993.

John Paul's heart was rebuilt at a Philadelphia hospital in mid-1993, and he is making "a miraculous recovery," according to his father.

Cisneros, by all accounts, is an excellent HUD secretary -- a powerful spokesman for the poor, a sound administrator and a skilled innovator.

Medlar says she is not faring well. Reclusive and nervous, she is depressed, worried about house payments and debts and desperately looking for work. "This is behind the scenes and nobody's going to care who I am," she said of her latest plans. "I'll do anything at this point that's not nudity or going on a talk show."

Now, Linda Medlar says, she is looking for work cleaning houses.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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