FORT WORTH, Texas | President Barack Obama’s expected nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as secretary of Housing and Urban Development could test the 39-year-old’s ability to navigate Washington ahead of 2016 elections, Texas Democrats say.
Since giving the 2012 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Castro’s star has been on the rise, with his name often included among possible vice presidential contenders.
“This is an important step for Julian,” Henry Cisneros, a HUD secretary under President Bill Clinton and a former mayor of San Antonio, told The Associated Press. “If indeed he has the capability to be what we all think he can be,” Cisneros said, he can prove it by performing well at the helm of the federal housing agency.
Job performance aside, Castro’s background could be his main selling point.
He and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, grew up on the West Side of San Antonio in a working-class Mexican-American neighborhood. They were raised by their single mother, a prominent Latino rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s, and their grandmother, who crossed the border from Mexico as a child.
If Julian Castro is nominated to preside over HUD and confirmed by the Senate, he would become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the Obama administration.
“That says a lot. He carries with him the hopes and dreams and prayers of the entire Latino population,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas.
Gallego also thinks a Castro nomination would galvanize a grassroots effort in Texas to turn the historically Republican-dominated state into a place where Democrats can compete.
While neither Castro brother speaks Spanish fluently, both became well-versed in politics at an early age when their mother, Rosie, took them to political rallies and meetings.
“She literally taught them in her lap,” said Cisneros, who has known Rosie Castro since meeting her in kindergarten.
With the housing market’s lackluster recovery, if Julian Castro is named housing secretary, it will matter where he came from, Cisneros says.
“This is a poor city, so it means a lot that a person who’s going to be in public service is living the reality. He has never strayed far from his roots,” Cisneros said.
Castro earned an undergraduate degree at Stanford University and a law degree at Harvard before returning to San Antonio to become, at age 26, the city’s youngest councilman.
As mayor, Castro spearheaded a voter-approved preschool program; set up a walk-in center for high school students seeking guidance on college; and initiated revitalization of some of San Antonio’s most downtrodden neighborhoods.
Castro also worked on San Antonio’s “Promise Zone” program. That federal government initiative aims to revitalize high-poverty communities by increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities and leveraging private capital.
HUD plays a key role in the “Promise Zone” initiative and San Antonio was among the first cities that received a grant for the program from the administration.
Newt Gingrich, a former congressman from Georgia, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning that Castro would be “a good political pick for the president, it is a smart pick.” But Gingrich noted that it likely signals the conservative state won’t be turning blue anytime soon.
Obama’s anticipated nomination of Castro as secretary of HUD also could be a symbolic passing of the baton.
In many ways, the two men’s stories mirror one another’s: Both are minorities raised by single mothers, attended Harvard Law School and saw their political careers ascend rapidly after giving lauded keynote speeches at Democratic National Conventions.