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San Antonio is first US big city to elect a Hispanic mayor

San Antonio, the home of the Alamo, has become the first major US city to elect a Hispanic mayor. But the April 4 victory by Henry C. Cisneros signals a steady course of economic development for the nation's ninth-largest city rather than any radical new social order.

Mr. Cisneros, as a city councilor, has consistently championed economic development as the best way to transform San Antonio from a popular tourist site to a more thriving business center. Building a broader economic base for the city was the central theme of his mayoral campaign.

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San Antonio has expanded rapidly over the past decade -- its population growing by 16 percent. Providing jobs to all those residents has been a major challenge and is expected to remain a priority for the new mayor.

Cisneros is a serious-minded professor of urban studies who seems well-matched to the city's growing reputation as an aggressive new center of economic activity. Says a former editorial page editor of one of the city's daily newspapers: "Mr. Cisneros comes across as a young man in a hurry, and he has happened to come along at the right time in just the right city."

Political analysts also see Cisneros's victory as significant for the city's Mexican-Americans. Hispanics represent 53 percent of the San Antonio population , but in the past they have often felt under-represented in local affairs. In 1977, representatives of the Hispanic community accused the predominantly Anglo business community of recruiting companies by offering a cheap local work force -- in effect, exploiting Mexican-American labor.

Relations between the Hispanic and Anglo communities have improved significantly since then. In 1976, the city began electing councilors by district, opening the way to more Hispanic political representation.

The election of Cisneros is a signal that "the doors of opportunity are definitely open," said outgoing Mayor Lila Cockrell.

Cisneros has supported economic development as the key ingredient to raising the standard of living among the city's poor. "People here have been without for so long that they are eager to take a shot at real economic growth," he noted in a Monitor interview last year.

Cisneros won 63 percent of the vote. His major opponent, John Steen, ca rried 36 percent of the vote.

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