A Star is Reborn

When President Obama chose San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he was fulfilling a campaign promise to place Latinos in his cabinet. But he also propelled an attractive politician to a job that’s likely a stepping stone to higher office. Some say it could even eventually make Castro the Democrats’ vice presidential pick, a first for a Latino.

That opportunity died 20 years ago when former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, also mayor of San Antonio and another rising star, became embroiled in scandal. Castro, 39, is a Cisneros protégé and may benefit from the older man’s counseling.

Like his identical twin Joaquín, Julián Castro learned politics at his mother’s knee. Rosie Castro was once a fiery Chicana radical whose political philosophy softened over time, but still proved a liability when Julián ran for mayor in 2005. He won that election by convincing voters he’d represent all, not just those who lived in the barrio. “They saw with their own eyes what their mom did,” said Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Everywhere I saw her, she had her twins with her.”

Joaquín Castro said his father, Jesse Guzman, a teacher and political activist, also helped shape the twins’ worldview.“From the time we were born, we were both civically engaged,” Joaquín said. “There was no way to escape it.”

Their parents, who never married, split up when the boys were eight years old. Joaquín said it surprised him that his brother accepted the HUD nomination because he’d been unsuccessfully wooed by the Obama administration to serve in a number of jobs, including Secretary of Transportation.“I thought my brother would serve out his third term as mayor,” Joaquín said.

But he said he’s glad to reunite with Julián in Washington, D.C. Before Joaquín was elected to Congress in 2012, the brothers were rarely apart. They were tennis stars at Thomas Jefferson High School and  attended Stanford University together. When Joaquín did not get into Yale Law School, the brothers settled for Harvard. After law school, Julián won the San Antonio council seat that once eluded his mother. The following year, his brother was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives from a district that includes San Antonio.

Cavazos said it was hard to tell the brothers apart and he could only do so for a while when  Julián  wore a wedding ring and Joaquín, who was single, did not. Now both brothers are married and each has a daughter.The only difference, Cavazos said, is that Joaquín Castro “might be a little less introverted. Julián by nature, is shy and reserved,” he said.

But that hasn’t hurt Julián in the rough and tumble world of politics.

He came to national attention as a keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where he gave a rousing and humorous address that focused on his humble background and slammed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s economic plan, which he insinuated was elitist.The New York Times has called him the “Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician” because of his universal appeal. Democratic strategist Maria Cardona agrees.“His is a consummately American story,” she said.

But Julián would also excite Latino voters, Cardona said. That’s because of his position on immigration, and his belief in the role of government and “building the economy from the middle out instead of the top down.” He’d be a great foil to Republican Latinos like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida or Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom are said to have vice presidential, and even presidential, aspirations.“He would not only be an effective rival to other Latinos on the GOP ticket, he would crush them,” Cardona said. But she cautioned Julián may need a little more time in Washington before he ready to continue on his arching political trajectory. “I don’t think he’s quite there, frankly, but this is clearly his path,” she said.

Joaquín said his brother is flattered by all the buzz about his political future, but for now will concentrate on his new job at HUD. “The good thing about Julián is that he’s focused on the right now,” he said.

Ana Radelat