More than 900 black ties and evening gowns stood to fill the Marriott Rivercenter banquet room with applause as Patrick Tobin handed the 2014 International Citizen Award to former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros.
Though the evening was in praise of Cisneros' life work locally and abroad, he was candid when acknowledging the anticipation in the room for the keynote speaker of the evening, his former boss and former President Bill Clinton.
"I'm going to keep my remarks short so that you can hear from the person you came to hear," Cisneros said, smiling before he welcomed Clinton to the stage. "(When) the announcement was made President Clinton was going to be a speaker (ticket sales) spiked" and quickly sold out.
"I spent a lot of time ... reading the histories of other administrations," Clinton said. "I have a pretty good formed opinion about things that have happened in this country in the last 60 years. There is no question that Henry Cisneros is, by a long stretch, the finest Secretary of Housing and (Urban) Development of all."
Clinton credited Cisneros with the decrease of homelessness and increase of homeownership to two-thirds of the U.S. population "with a reputable mortgage."
Much of Clinton's speech was focused on the importance of interdependence in an increasingly globalized economy and society.
"Divorce is not an option," he said. "The world's borders will look more like nets than walls – even if you try to put a wall up – because you can lob a missile over a wall ... and you can sure lob an Internet message over a wall. So the great work of the early 21st century is to define the terms of our interdependence."
Clinton's message was one of unity and cooperation. He spoke of his travels and experience in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South America. What he had found was that the "creative cooperators" were the most successful. No longer can countries look at global power and prosperity as a zero sum game, he said, because of how much nations rely on each other. Power is now more dispersed.
"One of the terms of our interdependence should be inclusiveness and cooperation," Clinton said. "People are saying all the time now, 'Why can Washington be so divided when (in) all of our cities people work across party lines, philosophical lines, racial lines, income lines and work together?' The reason is, (city leaders are) living together and see each other (on a daily basis)." Congress doesn't really get that luxury.
A gift Cisneros gave Clinton exemplified this trait in the then young cabinet member who was able to bring that San Antonio spirit of inclusiveness to the national stage.
"(Cisneros) gave me a beautiful piece of framed calligraphy," Clinton said. "The verse from Saint Matthew that says we will all be judged not by how much money we (make) or how much power we exercise but how we treated the poor, the infirm, the elderly ... it was the most eloquent expression of human interdependence."
The World Affairs Council of San Antonio award recognizes individuals who, through work locally and internationally, embody the Council's mission to grow San Antonio's presence as an "international city" and increase awareness of global issues. Cisneros certainly fits the bill. He's worked in over 40 nations throughout his career in various roles.
Cisneros spent much of his four terms as mayor working on international relations with Mexico and Japan resulting in official sister-city relationships and he is credited with bringing the Toyota manufacturing plant to San Antonio.
"People think that relations between countries are actually (between) nations as a whole ... but the truth of the matter is most of these relationships occur between points of contacts in cities," Cisneros said. "Cities matter in the international context and (that) has always been true about San Antonio."
Cisneros also played a role in articulating and supporting the North American Trade Agreement, passed in 1993.
"When Henry was elected in 1981 he really set us on the path to create an international city," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. "Today, after all the work that he did ... we have (about) 155 international companies here today."
Wolff joined Mayor Julián Castro in introducing Cisneros.
"Since the time he was elected to City Council 38 years ago has left an indelible mark on our city, moved San Antonio forward and in the last few years has continued to do that throughout the United States and all over the world," Castro said.
Cisneros continues his work in Mexico as a board member of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and as co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Immigration Task Force. Among other boards and positions, he also serves as vice chairman of Habitat for Humanity International, chairman of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and chair-elect of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce as well as Chairman of CityView. Also on his resume: former president and COO of Univision Communications and former president of the National League of Cities.
Cisneros described several key international developments in San Antonio's future (bullet points from a copy of Cisneros' prepared remarks):
- The automotive network of which our Toyota plant is a hub will engage us more deeply in Mexico and beyond.
- Our region’s good fortune in developing the Eagle Ford shale reserves positions us to help Mexico as it executes its energy reforms, even as we help make possible North American energy independence and thereby help shape a new international security framework.
- Port San Antonio will link us logistically to producers around the world and host global aviation technology companies.
- The NAFTA corridor along IH-35 will buttress the investments of our new entrepreneurs from Mexico, making San Antonio a transport, manufacturing, and investment node for three nations.
- Immigration reform will allow workers to emerge from the shadows and enable them to work legally, to own, to invest, to buy, and to form businesses.
- San Antonio’s growing cyber security complex will engage us in sober decisions about catastrophic threats and present dangers in the world.
- The Texas Triangle: San Antonio-Austin on the southwest corner; Dallas Fort Worth at the northern corner; and Houston at the southeast corner will emerge as a global juggernaut with the air routes, logistics infrastructure, seaports, technology, higher education, biomedical assets, and capital flows that distinguish a world class mega-region.
- San Antonio’s biosciences advances prepare “a city that heals” to bring health and healing to people around the world.
- And our people-to-people diplomacy: the U.S.-Mexico Foundation under Martha Smith’s leadership links San Antonio and Chiapas; Habitat for Humanity’s model of collaboration – its “three P’s,” the private sector, the public sector and the people sector – started with its first chapter of volunteers in San Antonio. And now Habitat under Jonathan Reckford’s leadership has lifted its sights and offers the world another set of “three P’s”: Peace, Prosperity, and elimination of Poverty, building more than 100,000 homes a year in more than 40 nations.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Cisneros Center for New Americans is his latest project, which hopes to headquarter out of the Westside and serve as a resource for immigrants toward accelerated integration into American society.
Cisneros joins a long list of distinguished International Citizen Award recipients including Dick Evans (2013), Graham Weston (2011), Charles Butt (2003), William E. Greehey (1999), Anne L. Armstrong (1993), Tom Frost (1990), Former Governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr. (1987) and Brigadier General Robert F. McDermott (1985).
"I have observed over the years that in the long arc of democracy the wisdom of the people generally gets it right. In fits and starts, Americans chose the right direction. Thus the trajectory of progressing democratic institutions, in civil rights, in education, in science, in medicine, in solidifying economic prosperity we choose, step-by-step, human progress," Cisneros said. "I have faith that the same wisdom of the people applies to choosing our leaders."
*Featured/top image: President Clinton and Henry Cisneros walk together. Photo of projected image displayed during banquet.