June 8: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gives the keynote address at the Texas Democratic Convention in Houston.AP/Pat Sullivan
July 17: President Barack Obama walks with from left, Texas State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D), his twin brother San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Congressman Charles Gonzalez, upon his arrival in San Antonio.AP/Bahram Mark Sobhani
The scene was The White House. The year was 2009.
A main attraction at a small power gathering that included President Obama was a young mayor whose name was unknown to many outside Texas – Julian Castro.
Castro, who was one of only five mayors among those invited to a jobs and economics growth forum, had graduated from Harvard Law School only nine years earlier.
Now, in his late-30's, he had become mayor of San Antonio and was, as he was told before the White House meeting by a Cabinet official in the Obama Administration, “on the radar in Washington.”
That was not a light observation.
In an extensive New York Times Magazine profile on Castro, Mark McKinnon, described as “a member of George W. Bush’s inner circle in Austin,” said: “Julian Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States.”
Later, he was one of Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” – a list of the country’s most promising leaders. “Higher office may be in Castro's future,” the Time story said.
Now, Castro, 37, has received a volcanic boost to national notoriety with the selection of him as the new Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. He is also being talked about as a strong contender for vice president if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination.
Castro and Obama share trail-blazing parallels. They both were raised by single mothers. They both are graduates of Harvard Law School. Obama gripped national attention – and acquired a “presidential glow,” so to speak -- with a riveting keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Castro is the son of an activist named Rosie who was a force in a radical movement in Texas that pushed the case of Chicanos and Mexican American civil rights.
He says that affirmative action helped him and his twin brother, Joaquin, a U.S. Representative in Texas, get into Stanford, but then notes that he did well in school and has done pretty well since. Shortly after getting his law degree, Castro, 26, became the youngest elected city councilman at that time in San Antonio history. His brother is a member of the Texas legislature who is running for a congressional House seat.
Castro's mayoral website says that he has focused on attracting well-paying jobs in 21st century industries, "positioning San Antonio to be a leader in the New Energy Economy and raising educational attainment across the spectrum." In 2011, the Milken Institute ranked San Antonio the nation’s top-performing local economy.
Published reports say Julian, whose wife, Erica Lira Castro, is an elementary school teacher, is not fluent in Spanish, and once hired a tutor to try to gain some rudimentary skills in his ancestral language.
Like anyone who achieves a high profile, Castro is not without critics who, among other things, say he’s driven too strongly by his ambition, that he’s in too much of a hurry to make a splash.
Of all the powerful, over-achievers Castro has rubbed shoulders with in his spectacular journey so far, it’s his mother he admires most, he says.
“She has never held political office, but has always been civically involved,” Castro was quoted as telling Time Magazine. “Growing up, I learned to appreciate the value of the democratic process through her love for making a difference in the lives of others.”
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