Julián Castro

New mayor Julián Castro on San Antonio’s future.

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

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