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.
Thu August 2, 2012 7:22 pm
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

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