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A conversation with Henry Cisneros
(Photo courtesy: The Stasko Agency)

By Joe Contreras

“The first Hispanic president of the United States is among us,” declared Henry Cisneros during a recent interview with La Voz. The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under former President Bill Clinton and four term mayor of San Antonio said, “I don’t know if that man or woman is in school or already serving in office somewhere, but I am absolutely convinced that person is alive.”

He mentioned several names of qualified individuals who could be president including: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, California House Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

At age 63, Cisneros is as vital, energetic and passionate about community and civic affairs as when he was 33 years old and elected mayor of San Antonio. One of the first Latinos elected mayor of a large U.S. city; he won by unprecedented margins each time including capturing 94 percent of the vote in 1983.

Currently the Executive Chairman of CityView, a billion dollar urban investment firm, Cisneros sat down with La Voz to talk about a variety of issues affecting Latinos and the country as a whole---among them housing, immigration, racism and politics.

“Hispanics in America can no longer be viewed as a side show, something to be dealt with on humanitarian or civil rights instincts,” he said. Citing the Census’ estimated 50 million Latinos in the U.S., he emphasized that Latinos are fundamental to the future success of United States.

“Without a strong Hispanic middle class there will likely not be an American middle class in the next generation,” he said, “It is core nation building strategy. If this nation is to sustain its prosperity, the American Latino community is going to have to be part of that.”

For politicians wanting to court the Latino vote this November he said it is important that they speak to those things that will allow Latinos the means to climb the latter of success in America. Early childhood and quality public education with access to higher education, job training, fairness in the workplace, small business programs, housing in order to become home owners, healthcare and noting that Latinos are the most under insured in the U.S., were some the issues he mentioned that must be addressed if candidates hope to receive any support from the Latino population. “We’re not asking for special treatment,” he said, “we’re just asking that the doors for opportunity be kept open.”

“Latinos want the same things as main stream Americans for our families and for our business,” noting that Latino families are younger and newer to the workforce with high aspirations. “While Americans in the mainstream may feel they have already made it, many Latinos are still in route,” he said.

On immigration and racism Cisneros said he is deeply opposed to Arizona’s SB1070 and will do whatever he can to help fight the legislation. He said what’s needed is comprehensive immigration reform. He warned that the problem would get worse before it gets better. “We’re in a 15 round fight,” he said. “It’s important that we beat back this new racism at its early stages so that the next generation can move forward into the mainstream of American life without the disadvantage of being Latino.”

As HUD secretary, Cisneros restructured the agency and presided during the period when home ownership was the highest in U.S. history. In regard to today’s housing situation he said we have to work our way through the recession. “It’s hard to imagine a robust economic recovery that doesn’t include the housing sector,” he said. Job creation, low interest rates and stemming the tide of foreclosures are key. “What’s needed is not just loan modification but principal modification.”

For those who owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth he said, “Those homeowners who can wait it out and view their home as a place to live and not as a financial instrument; home prices will come around.” But for those who can’t he pointed to the “taking root” program recently announced by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. “Denver is one of the few cities in the nation that is using neighborhood stabilization stimulus money to prevent foreclosures,” he said.

On the national level he said the administration has created a new program that will allow homeowners who have been unemployed for an extended period of time the means by which they can stay in their homes.

On the bright side, he said, the numbers show that the housing turndown in Colorado is clearly ending. He cited the diversity of the area’s economy with technology, telecommunications, health care and higher education as reasons for the state having a stronger economy than much of the rest of the country.

His company, CityView, provided the capital on a just completed 380-home community in Boulder. He has high hopes of investing in downtown Denver and surrounding neighborhoods in the near future. “I like being part of the answer to the problem by providing affordable homes to people.” He added, “It’s what I plan to do for the rest of my career.”





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