Obama Cabinet may be boost for rising Texas mayor

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — President Barack Obama’s
expected nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as secretary of
Housing and Urban Development could test the 39-year-old’s ability to
navigate Washington ahead of 2016 elections, Texas Democrats say.
Since
giving the 2012 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention,
Castro’s star has been on the rise, with his name often included among
possible vice presidential contenders.
"This is an important step
for Julian," Henry Cisneros, a HUD secretary under President Bill
Clinton and a former mayor of San Antonio, told The Associated Press.
"If indeed he has the capability to be what we all think he can be,"
Cisneros said, he can prove it by performing well at the helm of the
federal housing agency.
Job performance aside, Castro’s background could be his main selling point.
He
and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, grew up on the
West Side of San Antonio in a working-class Mexican-American
neighborhood. They were raised by their single mother, a prominent
Latino rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s, and their grandmother,
who crossed the border from Mexico as a child.
If Julian Castro is
nominated to preside over HUD and confirmed by the Senate, he would
become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the Obama
administration.
"That says a lot. He carries with him the hopes
and dreams and prayers of the entire Latino population," said U.S. Rep.
Pete Gallego, D-Texas.
Gallego also thinks a Castro nomination
would galvanize a grassroots effort in Texas to turn the historically
Republican-dominated state into a place where Democrats can compete.
While
neither Castro brother speaks Spanish fluently, both became well-versed
in politics at an early age when their mother, Rosie, took them to
political rallies and meetings.
"She literally taught them in her lap," said Cisneros, who has known Rosie Castro since meeting
her in kindergarten.
With
the housing market’s lackluster recovery, if Julian Castro is named
housing secretary, it will matter where he came from, Cisneros says.
"This
is a poor city, so it means a lot that a person who’s going to be in
public service is living the reality. He has never strayed far from his
roots," Cisneros said.
Castro earned an undergraduate degree at
Stanford University and a law degree at Harvard before returning to San
Antonio to become, at age 26, the city’s youngest councilman.
As
mayor, Castro spearheaded a voter-approved preschool program; set up a
walk-in center for high school students seeking guidance on college; and
initiated revitalization of some of San Antonio’s most downtrodden
neighborhoods.
Castro also worked on San Antonio’s "Promise Zone"
program.
That federal government initiative aims to revitalize
high-poverty communities by increasing economic activity, improving
educational opportunities and leveraging private capital.
HUD
plays a key role in the "Promise Zone" initiative and San Antonio was
among the first cities that received a grant for the program from the
administration.
Newt Gingrich, a former congressman from Georgia,
said Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union" Sunday morning that Castro
would be "a good political pick for the president, it is a smart pick."
But Gingrich noted that it likely signals the conservative state won’t
be turning blue anytime soon.
Obama’s anticipated nomination of Castro as secretary of HUD also could be a symbolic passing of the
baton.
In
many ways, the two men’s stories mirror one another’s: Both are
minorities raised by single mothers, attended Harvard Law School and saw
their political careers ascend rapidly after giving lauded keynote
speeches at Democratic National Conventions.
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