Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Who Is Julián Castro?

Monday, June 09, 2014

On June 2, 2014, President Barack Obama submitted the nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), taking over from Shaun Donovan, who was chosen as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

 

Castro was born September 16, 1974, one minute ahead of his brother Joaquin, in San Antonio, Texas. Their mother, Rosie Castro, was an activist in San Antonio and was a leader of La Raza Unida, a group dedicated to defending the rights of Mexican-American in Texas. In 1971, Rosie ran for San Antonio city council, but in the days before single-member districts, she lost. Her mother had emigrated to the United States from Mexico at a young age. The boys’ father, Jesse Guzman, was a math teacher. Guzman and Castro separated when the boys were 8, and Castro took on most of the parenting chores at that point.

 

Julián and Joaquin did nearly everything together throughout high school, college and law school. They attended Jefferson High School in San Antonio, where Julián was on the tennis team. They graduated a year early, in 1992, and went on to Stanford, where Julián majored in political science and communications. He later said that his SAT scores weren’t as good as many of his classmates, and he was grateful to have been given a chance to attend the school through affirmative action. In the summer of 1994, Julián served as an intern in the Clinton White House. The brothers each ran for student senate while at Stanford. As might be expected, they won seats when they tied for the most votes in the race.

 

The brothers graduated from Stanford in 1996 and went together to Harvard Law School. They graduated in 2000, but even before that, Julián was planning his move into politics. He began running for San Antonio City Council from his dorm room in Cambridge. He won the 2001 District 7 race and served two two-year terms as councilman.

 

Upon graduation, he and Joaquin went to work for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in the national law firm’s San Antonio office. In 2005, the brothers founded their own law firm. An early success with a civil case made them comfortable enough to be able to continue their political careers, with Joaquin having been elected to the Texas Legislature in 2003.

 

Also in 2005, Julián ran for San Antonio mayor for the first time, losing in a runoff despite an early lead in the polls. He got some bad publicity when it was revealed that Joaquin had ridden in a parade in Julián’s place because of a conflicting commitment on the part of the older brother. Joaquin didn’t represent himself as Julián, but some accused the brothers of trying to pull a fast one on parade attendees.

 

In 2009, Julián ran again for mayor, and this time he won. At 35, he was the youngest mayor of a Top-50 U.S. city. He focused on education during his tenure, establishing a program to give college guidance to San Antonio high school students and championing a sales-tax increase to fund a pre-kindergarten school program. Castro also helped push through an ordinance banning discrimination against members of the LGBT community. He was re-elected twice, in 2011 and 2013, by huge margins.

 

In 2012, Castro, who was already starting to receive national recognition, got some time in the spotlight. He was chosen to give the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, not coincidentally the same platform Obama used to make himself known to the American public in 2004. During the speech, in which he dwelled on his family’s climb to success, his then-3-year-old daughter Carina almost stole the show. Cameras would focus on the little girl, who while watching herself on convention hall monitors, would flip her hair.

 

Following Obama’s re-election, the administration sent out feelers to see if Castro would accept the post as secretary of transportation. Castro declined, wanting to stay in San Antonio for the time being.

 

Now, assuming he wins Senate confirmation, Castro will follow in the footsteps of another San Antonio mayor. Henry Cisneros served as President Bill Clinton’s HUD secretary from 1993 to 1997. Cisneros is a family friend of Castro, whose mother attended school with Cisneros.

 

Castro is already being talked about as a possible Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2016. One thing that might hurt his appeal to the Hispanic community is that he doesn’t speak fluent Spanish. He has taken classes, and can now understand the language fairly well. Castro’s wife, Erica, is an elementary school math teacher.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician (by Zev Chafets, New York Times)

The 10 Things You Need To Know About Julián Castro (by Jaime Fuller, Washington Post)

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