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TSC 92: Henry Cisneros: A Life of Service, from the Barrio to the Mayor's Office to Clinton's Cabinet
The Honorable Henry Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio and HUD Secretary, joins The Sydcast to talk about his life’s work in politics from city council to the president’s cabinet. Mr. Cisneros speaks of the power of local government, place-based practices, and entrepreneurial thinking in politics. Hear Mr. Cisneros’s take on the atomization of our news sources, free enterprise and Latinos in Texas, how to make everyday count, and more in this episode of The Sydcast.
Syd Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He holds a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Professor Finkelstein has published 25 books and 90 articles, including the bestsellers Why Smart Executives Fail and Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, which LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman calls the “leadership guide for the Networked Age.” He is also a Fellow of the Academy of Management, a consultant and speaker to leading companies around the world, and a top 25 on the Global Thinkers 50 list of top management gurus. Professor Finkelstein’s research and consulting work often relies on in-depth and personal interviews with hundreds of people, an experience that led him to create and host his own podcast, The Sydcast, to uncover and share the stories of all sorts of fascinating people in business, sports, entertainment, politics, academia, and everyday life.
Chairman of American Triple I Partners, LLC.
Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors & Equity Owner,
Siebert, Williams, Shank, LLC.
Founder & Chairman, City View
Henry Cisneros is Chairman of American Triple I, an infrastructure investment firm based in New York. He is also a Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors & Equity Owner of Shank Williams Cisneros & Co., L.L.C, and Principal of Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC. a national municipal and corporate finance firm. Mr. Cisneros is the Founder and Chairman of CityView, which is a partner in building more than 100 communities in 13 states, building more than 7,000 homes with a total value of over $5 billion.
Mr. Cisneros’ community-building career began at the local level. After serving three terms as a City Councilmember, in 1981, Mr. Cisneros became the first Hispanic-American mayor of a major U.S. city, San Antonio, Texas. During his four terms as Mayor, he helped rebuild the city’s economic base and spurred the creation of jobs through massive infrastructure and downtown improvements.
In 1984, Mr. Cisneros was interviewed by the Democratic Presidential nominee as a possible candidate for Vice President of the United States and in 1986 was selected as the “Outstanding Mayor” in the nation by City and State Magazine. After completing four terms as Mayor, Mr. Cisneros formed Cisneros Asset Management Company, a fixed income management firm operating nationally and ranked at the time as the second fastest growing money manager in the nation.
In 1992, President Clinton appointed Mr. Cisneros to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a member of President Clinton’s Cabinet, Secretary Cisneros has been credited with initiating the revitalization of many of the nation’s public housing developments and with formulating policies which contributed to achieving the nation’s highest ever homeownership rate. In his role as the President’s chief representative to the nation’s cities, Mr. Cisneros personally worked in more than 200 U.S. cities in every one of the 50 states.
After leaving HUD in 1997, Mr. Cisneros was president and chief operating officer of Univision Communications, the Spanish-language broadcaster which has become the fifth-most-watched television network in the nation. Mr. Cisneros served on Univision’s Board of Directors until 2020. Mr. Cisneros has served as President of the National League of Cities, as Deputy Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and as Vice-Chairman of Habitat for Humanity International. Mr. Cisneros remains active in San Antonio’s leadership where he is former Chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and BioMed SA. He is a former member of the advisory board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Cisneros has been inducted into the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) “Builders Hall of Fame”.
Mr. Cisneros has also been author or editor of several books including: Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation. His book project with former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, Opportunity and Progress: A Bipartisan Platform for National Housing Policy, was presented the Common Purpose Award for demonstrating the potential of bipartisan cooperation and Casa y Comunidad: Latino Home and Neighborhood Design was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Silver Medal in the category of best business book of 2006. In 2017 he co-authored Building Equitable Cities. Mr. Cisneros co-authored The Texas Triangle: An Emerging Power in the Global Economy, release date May 11, 2021.
Mr. Cisneros holds a Bachelor of Arts and a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Texas A&M University, where he has been designated a Distinguished Alumnus. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, was a graduate assistant in urban economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds a Doctorate in Public Administration from George Washington University, and has been awarded more than 20 honorary doctorates from leading universities. Texas A&M University at San Antonio is the site of the Cisneros Center for Emerging Leaders.
He served as an infantry officer in the United States Army. Mr. Cisneros is married to Mary Alice P. Cisneros, who from 2007–2011 served on San Antonio’s City Council. They have three children – Teresa, Mercedes, and John Paul – and four grandchildren.
Insights from this episode:
- Reflections on the values of education and how cities can provide free college education.
- How local government can function in entrepreneurial ways and possibilities of place-based, bottom up politics.
- Mr. Cisneros journey to mayor and Clinton’s cabinet, along with an inside look into cabinet meetings and the interplay between policy and White House obligations.
- Mr. Cisneros insights into politicians like the Clintons, FDR, and Obama.
- Reasons why Texas won’t turn blue anytime soon.
Quotes from the show:
- “It took a lot of focus and belief in education [to get Henry and his siblings through college]. Our family has almost a secular faith in education.” — Henry Cisneros [11:24]
- “[Cities] can be masters of their own destinies, can be self-reliant entities, and do things of that nature [such as providing free college education] that they know they need for their goals.” — Henry Cisneros [14:32]
- “I wanted to do something in my life and my career of service that didn’t include necessarily the formal establishment ways of service -- being in the military, being the foreign service-- but I fell in love with the notion of helping build the cities.” — Henry Cisneros [17:36]
- “What I found in the practices of the city government were so antiquated, so unfair, so unjust that I just couldn’t abide it. And I ended up, quite against my own nature, being a firebrand, populace city council member.” — Henry Cisneros [21:24]
- “An entrepreneur sees a problem, and rather than walking away, it makes them crazy. And they try to fix it. They don’t always succeed in fixing it, but that’s what they try to do.” — Syd Finkelstein [23:22]
- “When you approach people with practical solutions instead of labels, like what is properly conservative or what is liberal, radical. When you’re talking about solutions, you can get somewhere. We used to say, there’s no democratic or republican-- no liberal or conservative-- way to pick up the garbage or to re-develop a neighborhood.” — Henry Cisneros [26:47]
- On place-based politics: “It’s not about the department in Washington. It’s not about the extended bureaucracy across the country. It’s about how it appears on the ground… We kind of flipped the organizational chart upside down.” — Henry Cisneros [36:03]
- On the population growth in Texas: “Think about it, who’s coming? It’s people who are dissatisfied and escaping conditions in other states, which they regard as too progressive.” — Henry Cisneros [51:02]
- “A mix of things results in the Latino community not being the ingredient that’s going to turn Texas blue. It’s beginning to split.” — Henry Cisneros [52:23]
- “There’s no longer broadcasting; there’s narrowcasting.” — Henry Cisneros [53:43]
- “Learn all you can and keep an open mind. Think well of the world and other people, and let their ideas get into your world and ferment. You’ll be a better person for it. You’ll be a happier person. You’ll be a unifier.” — Henry Cisneros [56:11]
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This episode was produced and managed by Podcast Laundry (www.podcastlaundry.com)