Everything You Wanted to Know About Julián Castro

A primer on the San Antonio mayor, who was recently thrust into the national spotlight after he was tapped to deliver the DNC's keynote address.

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AP Photo | Pat Sullivan

The largest political story in Texas Tuesday not tied to the runoff elections was that Democratic party leaders tapped San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to give the keynote address at this year’s National Democratic Convention, cementing his status as a rising star in the Democratic party

Univision broke the news that the 37-year-old Stanford University and Harvard Law grad would become the convention’s first Hispanic keynote speaker. The national media stumbled over itself Tuesday to learn more about Castro and his identical twin brother Joaquin (above right and left, respectively), a current state rep who is favored to win the election to replace retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzales, D-San Antonio, in Texas’s 20th Congressional District.

Of course, while not a household name, this is not Julián’s first time in the national spotlight. He was the subject of a glowing 2010 New York Times Magazine profile by Zev Chafets that dubbed him a “post-Hispanic Hispanic politician.” John A. Garcia, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, voiced great optimism for his national prospects: “People look at him and say, ‘Finally, we have somebody who won’t screw up.’ … Of course, he’s still young, and he might be too good to be true, but if I were betting on the next national Hispanic political leader, I’d bet on Julián,” Garcia told Chafets.

What has TEXAS MONTHLY written about the twins over the years?
The twins were the subject of a joint profile by Cecilia Ballí in the pages of TEXAS MONTHLY in October 2002, when they were 28. At the time Joaquin was making his first run for the state legislature and Julián was a newly-minted city councilman.

For their proud mother, Rosie Castro, a former community activist and La Raza Unida leader, the twins “represent Rosie’s second chance—two of them, actually—to finally enter what she calls the Inside, to sit at the table where policy gets made instead of just having to pound on the damn door to have someone hear you,'” Ballí wrote.

Ballí’s acquaintance with the twins was longstanding: she was a classmate of both brothers when they were at Stanford. “I thought of Joaquin and Julián Castro as two preppy, courteous, interchangeable San Antonio brothers I had been introduced to because of the Texas roots we shared but whom I seldom saw,” she wrote.

Here’s how Ballí described Julián:

Physically, it is impossible for anyone but those closest to them to tell them apart. But in personality, the Castro brothers are significantly different. The older of the twins is respectful, pensive, soft-spoken, a homebody who likes to write and has meticulously studied the path of policymakers he admires—among them John F. Kennedy, Henry Cisneros, Bill Clinton—so that he might chart his own political journey, one he hopes will take him up the ranks of municipal government to the Texas governor’s office, possibly beyond. “He’s just an honest person,” says Rosie about Julián. “He’s like a good friend to have, which is one of the things I miss now that he’s busy on the council.”

Julián has had his eyes on politics a long time. When asked in high school to write a response to the question “Do people ever make assumptions about what you’ll do after college?” he wrote an essay titled “Politics… maybe.” according to Ballí.

And here’s what Ballí had to say about Joaquin:

The other one is witty, energetic, fun, a world-class socializer who likes public oratory and is more interested in testing the waters politically than in setting his future in stone, curious to find out how he would be received as an elected official but hoping, along the way, to do something to change radically San Antonio’s rather dismal education record. “He’s a real joyful ‘people’ kind of person,” Rosie says of Joaquin. “He’s the kind of person that all of a sudden will throw his arm around you.” 

Julián has long struggled with how much he wanted to be defined by his race. Ballí warns of the “ethnic quandary” that former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros had faced before him: “While [Cisneros] developed broad electoral appeal in his hometown by focusing on jobs and economic development rather than on Mexican American issues specifically, the national media, he says, wanted to make him the Hispanic Jesse Jackson,” Ballí wrote.

It is clear Julián wants to be defined more broadly: “To me, the ideal would be for people to be able to run based on their ideas but still mean something to the community they come from, because that’s also part of what inspires people,” he said in 2002. He echoed this sentiment to TEXAS MONTHLY’s Jan Jarboe Russell in 2010.

Where does Julián Castro stand on the issues?
Chafets’ Times story characterized Julián, the mayor of San Antonio since 2009, as a savvy pragmatist: 

He supports free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels, believes in balanced budgets and refers to David Souter as his ideal Supreme Court justice. Like a large plurality of his fellow San Antonians, Castro is a Roman Catholic, but he was the first San Antonio mayor to be grand marshal when he marched in the annual gay rights parade, and he is pro-choice. “We disagree on this, the pope and I,” he says with a smile.

Is Julián Castro the second coming of Barack Obama?
Many in the national media are asking that very question. (See this Daily Beast piece with the headline “Is Democratic Convention Keynote Speaker Julian Castro the Next Obama?”) Could the DNC keynote address, which launched Obama’s star in 2004, do the same thing for Julián?

“It’s a spot that launched, for example, Barack Obama in 2004 when he was just a fresh-faced 42-year-old state senator from Illinois. So can he live up to the expectations?” Domenico Montanaro asked at NBC’s First Read. To answer this question, he watched a collection of Julián’s speeches, including his June keynote address at the Texas Democratic Convention. Montanaro’s verdict? Julián’s “personality, humor, and ability to deliver a stirring speech that draws on his compelling personal story are clear.”

After the news of his selection broke, Julián acknowledged in a YouTube video that he has “big shoes to fill” with his speech. “Being the keynote speaker at the convention this year is an honor I don’t take lightly,” Castro said, before praising Obama’s achievements for several minutes.

What are Julián Castro’s political ambitions?
The Texas Tribune‘s Julián Aguilar checked in with the mayor of San Antonio after the keynote announcement:

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said Tuesday morning that despite growing speculation about his political future after being named the Democratic National Convention’s keynote speaker, he is content leading San Antonio.  “I am doing exactly what I want to do, and I am excited about the progress that we have made here,” Castro said. “When I thought about getting into public service, this was the role that I looked forward to, and it’s exciting to actually see progress in San Antonio. So I can’t see anything out there that would change my mind.” …

If re-elected as mayor, Castro would serve through May 2017. He said that isn’t when his political career will necessarily end, however, and left the door open to unnamed possibilities.

“If I do a great job in San Antonio, I’ll look around at that time,” he said. “The great thing is that if I do a great job as mayor, then other opportunities will open up and it just depends on what’s happening at that time.”

But, as Daily Intel‘s Dan Amira pointed out, when the Times‘s Zev Chafets asked him for his 2010 profile about whether he’d run for president, Julián replied “It is way too early to be thinking about that.” This answer, “is not ‘no,'” Amira wrote.

When discussing his political future with Jan Jarboe Russell in 2010, Julián indicated he is playing the long game. “I’m not going to be a flash in the pan. I’m going to be around a long time,” he said.

So, what does the national media make of the Castro brothers?
At the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift undersells Julian’s political profile by characterizing him as a “nearly unknown minority rising star” who “most most national politicos had never heard of before Tuesday.” Yes, a “nearly unknown” political figure who just happened to have been profiled by the New York Times Magazine in 2010.

On Tuesday, Politico, grasping for clicks, put out a list of ten facts about Julián. They dig a little at times, noting that his “favorite political blog is the New York TimesFive Thirty Eight.” (Other, better facts we’d like to offer as substitutes: his favorite beverage? “Diet Snapple Lemon is my vice these days,” he told TEXAS MONTHLY for a piece in the magazine’s June issue.)

But perhaps the laziest piece came from Elizabeth Hartfield at ABC News’ the Note, who marveled at the thought that Julián Castro and Ted Cruz were both Hispanic, yet held differing political views: “They are on opposite ends of the political spectrum with regard to policy, but San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz have several things in common. Both Castro and Cruz are of Hispanic descent.”

How are you supposed to tell the Castro brothers apart?
Well, Joaquin offered a handy (and clearly well-worn) tip on how to keep them straight when introducing his brother at for his keynote speech at the Texas Democratic Convention this June.

If you look close, there’s at least two ways to tell us apart. The quick way is that Julián has been incredibly blessed and he’s got a wonderful wife, Erica, who’s a public school teacher, and a 3-year-old daughter, Carina. But, as hard as my mom has tried, she has not been able to marry me off yet, so he’s got the wedding ring and I don’t. But, if you’re looking for an easier way to tell us apart, the easy way is I’m just a lot better looking than my brother.

Have they ever impersonated each other?
Only once, in high school English class, the brothers say. But at one point when Julián—then a city councilman—was running in the 2005 mayoral race in San Antonio, Joaquin appeared on the City Council Barge in the annual Big River Parade and waved to the crowd when the announcer called out Julián’s name. (Julián had planned to be on the boat but instead opted to attend a neighborhood meet-and-greet). Other mayoral candidates were upset by this, including city councilman Carroll Schubert. “I think it’s deceitful and showed very poor judgment,” Schubert said.

The brothers maintained that the announcer simply made a mistake, and Joaquin and Julián appeared in a Good Morning America segment titled “Identical Twins, Political Confusion” in an attempt to clear up the matter. “We never impersonate each other,” Julián explained. “He campaigns for me, he doesn’t campaign as me.” And Joaquin later added, “We get confused every day. I probably spend about half my day telling people that I’m me and not my brother, Julián.”

Are there any other identical twins with high-powered political careers?
Prominent identical twin politicians are a rare bird. The only other identical twin politicians we can think of are Lech Kaczyński, the late President of Poland, and his brother Jarosław, who served alongside Lech as Prime Minister for a time.

“All of Poland knows the two small, roundish — and virtually identical — men,” Susanne Amann wrote of the Kaczyński in Spiegel Online in 2005, ahead of the election that brought Lech to power. “the only differences are a tiny birthmark on one of their noses and the slightly unkempt hair of the other.” Another detail she picked out was that “Lech is married and has a daughter. Jarosław, on the other hand, still lives at home with his mother and his cats.”

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