What you need to know about Julián Castro, the likely next head of HUD


(David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Since Saturday morning, the media in San Antonio have been buzzing about a likely home in President Obama's Cabinet for the city's 39-year-old mayor and ascendant Democratic star, Julián Castro. Now it appears that the boyish-looking Harvard Law School grad -- the twin brother of U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro -- will become the next head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ed O'Keefe reports that the mayor has agreed to take the position, replacing current HUD head Shaun Donovan, who will move to helm the Office of Management and Budget. If Castro is confirmed, it would cement the rapid rise of one of the youngest big-city mayors in America, a Mexican-American who's been positioned since he was first elected mayor in 2009 as a future national Hispanic leader for the Democratic Party. Now, you will likely hear even more about him as a potential running mate to whoever wins the party's presidential nomination in 2016.

As early as 2010, the New York Times Magazine profiled Castro -- "The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician" -- as next in line in the tradition of "Great Hispanic Hopes," as a Mexican-American politician with parallels to Obama himself. (Zev Chafets asked him at the time if he'd accept a cabinet position: "Not likely, no.").

Castro's background is compelling: His mother was a well-known Hispanic activist in San Antonio in the 1970s, but the Castro brothers did not grow up speaking Spanish. He's a Roman Catholic, but he's pro-choice and supports gay marriage. He's a liberal, but of the Texas kind who likes to talk about the "rugged individual." And like Obama, his personal narrative is an acknowledged part of his appeal and his policy views: "Joaquín and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action,” he told the Times Magazine. "I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action because I’ve seen it work in my own life.”

Castro is probably best-known nationally for delivering a keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, a speech in which he relied heavily on his own life story, beginning with the orphaned grandmother who moved from Mexico and never made it past fourth grade. This is a story you will likely hear repeated in the next few months:

My grandmother didn't live to see us begin our lives in public service. But she probably would have thought it extraordinary that just two generations after she arrived in San Antonio, one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way—the good people of San Antonio willing—to the United States Congress.

My family's story isn't special. What's special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.

Since the 2012 convention, Castro was reportedly considered as well to head the Department of Transportation. But the top job at HUD may actually be a more fitting role for a politician who's comfortable talking about poverty, particularly as a story of disadvantages -- and incremental steps -- that are inherited across generations. From his finale in Charlotte:

In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don't always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor. My grandmother never owned a house. She cleaned other people's houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college. And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.
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