Evan Smith: You were elected mayor of San Antonio on May 9 with more than 56 percent of the vote, even though you ran against eight other people. Could you ever have imagined that you would avoid a runoff, let alone that the magnitude of your victory would be so impressive?
Julián Castro: No, it was a surprise. I was just hoping that I would get to 50 percent plus one. So when the early vote came back and it was more than 56 percent, I was elated.
ES: As a city councilman in 2005, you made it into the mayor’s race runoff, although you were ultimately drubbed by Phil Hardberger. How did losing—and being out of office for four years—affect your confidence going into this?
JC: I was confident going in, but as the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.” Because of my defeat in 2005, I don’t know if I approached it with the same bravado that I did as a thirty-year-old, kind of swashbuckling candidate.
ES: Did that loss teach you something other than to be more humble about your ambitions?
JC: It’s true that defeat is a better teacher than victory; you have to think about what you could have done better. I took time after the last race to do that, and I set about creating a broader coalition of support. The difference was strong support from San Antonio’s business community and better support citywide, from every council district.
ES: What persuaded the business community that you were the right guy in ’09 but not in ’05?
JC: I took the time to develop relationships with people in the business community. I think they better understood my approach, my outlook for San Antonio’s future, and they became comfortable with it. We just didn’t have enough of those conversations before the 2005 race.
ES: Was age more of an issue then? At 30, you would have been the youngest mayor in the city’s history. At 34, you’re not even the second-youngest.
JC: I feel old.
ES: The theory I’ve always heard about 2005 is that voters weren’t as happy as they expected to be with the previous mayor, Ed Garza, who was only 32 when he took office. So you were penalized for your youth—they didn’t want to take another chance on a young guy. Hardberger was more than twice your age.
JC: I think that’s accurate. This time Mayor Hardberger, as an elder statesman, had set a good foundation that allowed the city to think more positively about a younger candidate.
ES: What did you learn from him?
JC: The most important thing I learned is to have a goal-oriented approach. Most mayors take a shotgun approach, blasting away at a whole bunch of different objectives. He identified specific goals he wanted to accomplish, and he spent his political capital and energy on them. Also, he took a citywide approach to governing and worked very well with all ten council districts.
ES: So what are your specific goals?
JC: I have a couple of projects. Establish a green job corps. Create a museum district along the Broadway corridor.
ES: Is the sagging economy the biggest challenge facing the city?
JC: The biggest challenge is creating an educated workforce to compete with the nation and the world. We lag behind competing cities in our number of college graduates.
ES: What can you do about that as mayor?
JC: Well, there’s something very specific that I’d like to try. Like many school districts that are losing students, the San Antonio Independent School District is closing schools. I want the city to take over some of those campuses in the urban core and work with nonprofits to focus on early childhood education—from day one until age three, before kids get into pre-K or Head Start. And along with that, I’d like to see a whole series of measures to increase the percentage of children who are immunized on time, the percentage of parents who have received guidance on how to get involved with their child’s education, the percentage of kids who are kindergarten-ready at the appropriate age. I want San Antonio, in fifteen years, to rank at or near the top of America’s best cities for early childhood development.
ES: What you’re proposing would cost a lot of money.
JC: I’m hopeful that, in the coming years, we will have more revenue to do such things. But there’s also the private sector, which has shown a real willingness over the last five years to invest in different efforts that are important to the city.
ES: What do you do about luring companies to San Antonio and keeping them there? There are a number of major corporations headquartered in the city, but the loss of AT&T to Dallas last year had to hurt. What kind of package can you put together to attract and retain their kind?
JC: A couple of things. First, we’re going to keep refining our economic development model. We have dozens of development entities right now, and we are going to look at how we can streamline that process and create a Web presence—an informational portal of entry for San Antonio along the lines of what Houston and Phoenix have. Second, we need to get back to what Mayor [Henry] Cisneros did so well in the eighties, which was to raise the profile of the city. If you watch the Today show or CNN when they do the weather, you’d think San Antonio didn’t exist.
ES: Do you hire people to help market the city? Do you get more aggressive in publicizing things going on? Because obviously you want to spend your time on substance, and marketing isn’t really substance. Or at least it doesn’t have the same impact.
JC: I like to think it does. If you’re a graduate of Yale or the University of Michigan or the University of Chicago and you think about where the jobs are, oftentimes there’s opportunity in San Antonio