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Former HUD secretary Julián Castro joins 2020 Democratic presidential field

Former San Antonio mayor and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro (D) said at a rally Jan. 12 that he was running for president. (Video: Reuters)

SAN ANTONIO — Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and housing secretary in the Obama administration, on Saturday joined the increasingly crowded field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

As Castro, 44, stood in the working-class neighborhood where he grew up, he promised to expand prekindergarten programs, make the first two years of college more affordable, expand Medicare to all Americans, overhaul the criminal justice system and immigration laws, increase the minimum wage and make housing more affordable. If elected, he would be the nation’s first Latino president.

“I’m running for president because it’s time for new leadership. Because it’s time for new energy. And it’s time for a new commitment to make sure that the opportunities that I’ve had are available for every American,” Castro told hundreds of supporters packed into San Antonio’s Plaza Guada­lupe.

The announcement was intended to introduce Castro to an audience beyond San Antonio. He arrived at the plaza on the No. 68 city bus, the same one he and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), rode to school as children. He pointedly noted that “no front-runners” are born in the neighborhood. He told the crowd about the most influential women in his life: his single mother, Rosie Castro, a political activist, and his grandmother, Victoria Castro, who as a 7-year-old orphan immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1922. He announced his decision in both English and Spanish.

Before Castro took the stage, a mariachi band played and a diverse body of supporters endorsed him. Castro’s announcement was not a surprise. He launched an exploratory committee on Dec. 12 and, the next night, Joaquin Castro confirmed his brother would run for president. Before taking the stage Saturday, Castro tweeted with the hashtag #Julian2020.

Castro grew up on the west side of San Antonio, studied at Stanford University and Harvard Law School, and was elected to the San Antonio City Council when he was just 26. He ran for mayor of San Antonio twice, losing the first time in 2005 and then winning in 2009.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, told CNN on Jan. 11 that she will join the 2020 race for the White House. (Video: Reuters)

During his announcement speech, Castro spoke at length about how he expanded prekindergarten programs in the city as mayor — an initiative financed by an increase in the sales tax. If elected president, Castro said, he would like to expand access to free prekindergarten to “all children whose parents want it.”

“Today, we live in a world in which brainpower is the new currency of success,” Castro said Saturday. “If we want to compete — and we’d better — we need everybody’s talent. We don’t have a single person to waste.”

As mayor, Castro also opened Cafe College, where high school students could study and get help applying to college. As the youngest mayor of a top U.S. city, Castro quickly attracted national attention and built relationships with Democratic leaders and fellow Latino lawmakers across the country. During a visit by Castro to the White House in December 2009, President Barack Obama joked that he thought the young mayor “was an intern.”

In May 2014, Obama nominated Castro to become the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was confirmed later that summer, making him the youngest member of Obama’s Cabinet, and spent 2½ years in the position. During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton considered Castro as her running mate but eventually settled on Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

After Trump won the presidency, Castro started the Opportunity First political action committee that supports young liberal Democratic candidates. Castro lives in San Antonio with his wife, an elementary school teacher, and their two young children.

Although Castro was widely discussed as a possible candidate for governor in Texas in 2018, he decided not to run — and then watched as Beto O’Rourke, then a Democratic congressional representative from El Paso, ran for U.S. Senate and built a national following. O’Rourke is also considering a run for the White House, although those close to him do not expect him to make a decision until February.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced her candidacy on New Year’s Eve, joining former congressional representative John Delaney of Maryland and former state senator Richard Ojeda of West Virginia. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) also has joined the race. Another two dozen potential candidates are thought to be considering a run.

Castro’s campaign promises to fall within the current Democratic mainstream. He said he wants to make the first two years of college, a certification program or apprenticeship “accessible and affordable,” though he stopped short of calling for free college, as some Democrats have done. He called for “Medicare-for-all, universal health care for every American,” but did not get into the details of how he would pay for such a program. He promised to reinstate the Paris agreement on climate change in collaboration with other nations, and to work to pass a Green New Deal that would invest in environmentally friendly jobs.

The United States must also “overhaul and reimagine our justice system” because too many people of color have been killed by police officers, Castro said, citing by name several of those killed.

“If police in Charleston can arrest Dylann Roof after he murdered nine people worshiping at Bible study, without hurting him, then don’t tell me that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones and Eric Garner and Jason Pero and Stephon Clark and Sandra Bland shouldn’t still be alive today,” Castro said to cheers. “We’re going to keep saying their names and those of too many others just like them who were victims of state violence.”

He ended with a cultural blend: “So, let’s get to work. Vámonos!”