Not for Spurning
04/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
THERE WAS A TIME," SAYS LINDA Medlar, her voice breaking, "when I didn't think there were ever two people as close." But that time is past; now it is hard for Medlar to imagine feeling as much bitterness toward anyone as she does toward Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, 47, her former lover. "For him, I was expendable," she says. "It's like I was not even a person."
The problem for Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, is that right now Medlar shows no sign of disappearing. In fact, the 45-year-old former political fund-raiser is at the center of a new twist in the scandal that has dogged him for nearly seven years—and which may now cost him his job. On March 14, Attorney General Janet Reno sought the appointment of a special counsel to look into evidence that Cisneros lied about his dealings with Medlar to FBI agents conducting a background check of him after his 1992 appointment to the Clinton Cabinet. The issue is not his affair with Medlar per se, which has been public knowledge since 1988, but his allegedly lying about the amount of money he paid her over the years. For Cisneros, Reno's action has revived an ugly episode he thought he had put behind him. "I have made mistakes in judgment in my personal life," he has said, "but I have always adhered to the law."
The romance between Cisneros and Medlar began in March 1987 when Medlar, who had been a member of Cisneros's mayoral campaign staff for three months, accompanied him on a trip to New York City. Cisneros was then, as now, married to his high school sweetheart, Mary Alice Perez, who was at the time six months pregnant; he was also the father of two daughters, a four-term mayor of San Antonio and a rising star in the Democratic party. Handsome and charismatic, he was often mentioned as a future senator or governor. His affair with Medlar, who was also married and the mother of a daughter, now 17, started that first night in Manhattan.
The relationship continued for roughly five months before Cisneros's wife found out about it. But it was not until a year later that the scandal began to erupt into public view. In September 1988, Cisneros suddenly announced that he would not seek another two-year term as mayor. His stated reason—a desire to spend more time with his son, John Paul, who had been born in June 1987 with a serious heart ailment, and to make more money in private business. The next month, the San Antonio Express-News published a front-page story about his affair with Medlar. Though distraught, Medlar took solace in the hope that Cisneros would keep what she says were his promises to divorce Mary Alice and marry her.
Cisneros has acknowledged that he loved Medlar, but he disputes some of her claims. She contends that when her husband, Stan, a prosperous jewelry dealer in San Antonio, filed for divorce shortly after the affair became public, Cisneros urged her not to contest his suit, in order to prevent any more embarrassing details from coming out. As a result, she says, she walked away from a potential settlement of several hundred thousand dollars and ended up with nothing except shared custody of her daughter. She also says Cisneros moved in with her after he and Mary Alice separated in October 1988. Cisneros has maintained that he lived in his own apartment during the separation. As for Medlar's acceding to her husband's divorce suit, he says, "she made those decisions basically on her own."
Cisneros has stated his ambivalence about the relationship with Medlar led him to return to his family in November 1989. But, insists Medlar, Cisneros—then working as an investment consultant—could not let go. "He would call me 10 to 14 times a day," she says. Because of the scandal, Medlar could not find work as a fund-raiser. She says that Cisneros, out of moral obligation, agreed in early 1990 to pay her $4,000 a month until 1999, when her daughter would be out of college. During his background check, Cisneros reportedly told the FBI that he had paid Medlar roughly $60,000 between 1990 and 1992, but her records show that he gave her $213,000—a figure that Cisneros's lawyer disputes. If he did lie to the FBI, as Reno has alleged, it is unclear why he would have done so. In July 1993, six months after he took his $148,400-a-year job at HUD, Cisneros stopped the payments. Medlar filed a breach-of-contract suit last July.
As Medlar sees it, Cisneros's reconciliation with Mary Alice was designed to revive his career. "There is a side to Henry that is very narcissistic, that is very much concerned with what is good for Henry Cisneros," she says. "As a political animal, he has done everything correctly." She contends she has no interest in publicity, though it was her decision to appear on the tabloid television program Inside Edition last September and accuse Cisneros of lying to the FBI that triggered the initial Justice Department investigation. Medlar, who now lives in Lubbock, Texas, says she is destitute and must sell her house. Still, she says, she tries not to torment herself by thinking about how things might have been. "That," she notes, "is just a whole lot of water under the bridge."
ANNE MAIER in Houston, JOSEPH HARMES in San Antonio and JANE SIMS PODESTA in Washington