ON THE COLD AND WINDY SATURDAY in January when Mary Alice Cisneros announced her candidacy for a seat on the San Antonio City Council, two people hovered close by. The first was her husband, Henry Cisneros, the city’s former mayor, who had launched his political career 32 years earlier by winning the same city council seat. The second was her mother, Annie Coronado Perez, who had died the previous afternoon at the age of 93.
A large crowd was gathered at Mary Alice’s campaign headquarters, a gray-and-white frame house located only a few feet from the home on Houston Street in west San Antonio where the Cisneroses live. After a brief introduction from Henry, Mary Alice stood before the crowd, dressed in a sober black suit with white piping. At five feet two inches tall and slightly more than one hundred pounds, she looked as if she might be swallowed up by the large podium. She waited for the clatter of her many supporters to quiet and for the line of handheld video cameras in front of her to come to rest. “I thought about postponing this event,” she said. “Then I realized that would not honor my mother. This race has everything to do with my mother.”
That may have come as a surprise to those in the audience who assumed that the race had everything to do with her husband. Few politicians’ wives have had to live under as large a shadow as Mary Alice. In 1975, when he was 27 years old, Henry became the youngest councilman in San Antonio’s history. He was a charismatic speaker who commanded the kind of rapt media attention that now surrounds Barack Obama. Everyone was always watching Henry, first for his successes and then for his failures. At 40, when he was in his third term as San