It was going on midnight Saturday, and in the back corner of his campaign headquarters in downtown San Antonio, Henry Cisneros, his shirt wet with perspiration and his hands sore from the grip of his supporters, was relaxing over a bowl of menudo, savoring the Mexican tripe soup and his victory in the city's mayoral race.

Cisneros swept into office with nearly 62 percent of the total vote (better than 40 percent in the tree main Anglo districts), defeating John Steen, 59, a wealthy businessman and civic leader.

Around him, campaign workers celebrated with champagne and tamales, toasting the rise of Mexican-American political power, but Cisneros wanted to talk about something other plan ethnic politics.

"The real story tonight is a town that was trying to pull together to find models of innovation for economic development," he said. "We've made economic development an issue that people care about. Government by itself simply cannot do permanent things for people."

At 33, Cisneros is now a national figure, the first Mexican-American mayor of a major American city sought after by the television networks, a symbol to his own people. But we won the race with the financial support of big developers in the city and calls himself "a city technocrat" and a Scoop Jackson Democrat who supports nuclear power and unlimited economic growth.

What he may be is the first of a new breed of young ethnic candidates seeking to bridge the political gap between the needs of their own people and the realities of the communities in which they serve.

"I'm not the classic ethnic candidate," he said in a recent interview. "My agenda for the last six years has not been the standard ethnic agenda of police brutality and other social issues."

Instead it has been economic development, something he learned studying urban affairs at Harvard and George Washington universities. "I concluded that for San Antonio and South Texas, economic development is the only way to raise the incomes of poor people," he said. "There isn't an alternative to trickle-down economics."

Cisneros was headed for a career in aviation for the military when, in 1967, as a student at Texas A&M, he went East to attend a conference. While in New York, he read a Time magazine article about urbanologists, a group of scholars he knew nothing about. Since then, he has carefully prepared himself for the victory he won Saturday night.

He served as assistant city manager in two cities and worked in the Model Cities program in his hometown. "What I discovered there was that after the money from the government was gone, there was no meaningful change for the people," he said. "The money left no trace."

He worked at the League of Cities in Washington in 1970-71, where he met many big-city mayors. At the time, he was pointing toward to career in city management, but he concluded that the choices facing America's big cities were fundamentally political.

"I realized that what was needed was political strategy for economic development," he said. "The Chamber of Commerce was not doing it, nor was the business community. And there was no political pressure for it because minorities were worrying about other issues."

Later he was a White House fellow in the Nixon administration, working for Elliot L. Richardson, then secretary of health, education and welfare. "He pointed me in the direction of a political career," Cisneros said, "and I crossed the Rubicon at that point."

Cisneros came back to San Antonio and in 1975 was elected to the City Council, where he sometimes clashed with other Mexican-Americans who viewed him as too moderate and not loyal to Hispanic issues. But all the while, he kept his sights on a mayoral race, and worked to attract new industry to his city.

"If I had to put myself on a scale, neoconservative would be close," he said. "But I'm a pragmatic person." His "hero of the century," he noted, is Franklin D. Roosevelt, "who was neither a liberal nor a conservative . . . who was a pragmatic person who put together what was needed."

Cisneros faces immediate problems in San Antonio, despite its booming population and economic growth. City officials have projected an $18 million shortfall in city revenues next year, and with cuts in the federal budget, Cisneros may have to cut services and raise taxes. "I'm going to make a lot of enemies," he predicted, and it will be a test of his political skills to make the coalition that elected him come together to govern.

Although he won easily Saturday, Cisneros still has much to prove. He has matured politically in the last six years, but critics say he may still be too temperamental to handle the pressures he may face.

And there is suspicion that his alliance with the developers will come at the expense of his own people. Is he the messiah of the Mexicans or the tool of the developers?" the saying goes here. "In San Antonio," said an aide, "that may not be mutually exclusive."

Cisneros he will try to create a governing coalition unique to San Antonio -- a coalition that will include blacks, browns, labor and the developers.

"The developers really are prepared to put money behind the goal of unity," he said. "If I can show both sides that we're in this together for the long run and the developers get into the atmosphere of unity and the city gets in support of some new programs and bond issues, then may be able to make it. Short of these kinds of partnerships, I didn't see how cities in America are going to survive."