Julián Castro, who has served as mayor of San Antonio for five years, explained Friday why he has the background to be catapulted to the job as the nation’s housing secretary.
“We are in a century of cities,” Castro said after President Barack Obama officially nominated him to the Cabinet job of Housing and Urban Development secretary in a White House event. “America’s cities are growing again and housing is at the top of the agenda.”
Joined by his mother, father, wife, daughter and twin brother, Rep. Joaquín, Castro, 39, called the nomination a blessing and assured Obama he would assist him and local officials nationally “to ensure we do housing right and because of it more Americans achieve their dreams.”
If confirmed, Castro would head an agency begun in 1965 by another Texan, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of Johnson’s Great Society. The agency has a $49 billion budget. Castro's nomination must get approval from a Senate committee and the full Senate.
Castro would enter the agency with the economy and housing on stronger footing than when current Secretary Shaun Donovan took the reigns. But he still faces uncertain times in the housing market and a push for more affordable housing as home prices in cities and rents rise and home financing faces reforms.
He got an endorsement from Donovan, who has been nominated to be Obama’s budget director. “You’ve done outstanding work in San Antonio. I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Donovan said at the event also attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
Although Castro learned Spanish later in life, Obama told the mayor “ha vivido el sueño Americano (you have lived the American dream).”
Obama said as mayor, Castro has focused on revitalizing San Antonio, the nation's seventh largest city, by planning thousands of housing units downtown and attracting investment and has also built relationships with mayors across the country.
Obama said Castro’s grandmother like others of her generation considered home a source of pride, security, a place to raise a family, put down roots and build savings.
“Maybe one day, the kid grows up in that home is able to go on to get a great education, become the mayor of San Antonio, become a member of the president’s Cabinet,” Obama said.
Castro joins two other Latinos in the president’s Cabinet, reflecting the country’s evolving demographics. Latino leaders have pressed Obama to increase the presence of Latinos in Cabinet positions.
Much of the focus on Castor's nomination has been on what it means for a 2016 Democratic ticket. His addition to the Cabinet could help Obama energize Latino voters, with whom his high approval rating has been slipping. But Democratic strategist Larry Gonzalez of the Raben Group said the housing crisis so devastated the Latino community that only if Castro focuses on the successful polices he implemented in San Antonio will he "bring the Latino community, who still believes in the American Dream, along with him."
Castro’s and his parents were born in the U.S., his grandmother immigrated at a young age from Mexico.
“We’ve been hopeful the president would begin to really illustrate the breadth of the changing American public,” said Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. But more than his ethnicity, Palomarez said he brings the experience of leading seven residential projects in the downtown area and raising private capital for housing. “He’s illustrated he’s a consensus builder.”
Hector Barreto, chairman of The Latino Coalition, and a former Bush administration Cabinet member, said Castro’s nomination acknowledges the contributions of the Latino community and its capabilities but Castro will need to focus more on HUD’s mission of urban development after confirmation.
“The reality is the current economic environment has disproportionately affected the urban cores of this nation and especially African Americans, Hispanics and even college students,” he said.
Rolf Pendall, director of Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said Castro’s experience running a city should serve him well because he knows how to synthesize housing and urban development as a city mayor.
“His overview of how a city works may compensate for that lack of deep experience in housing,” Pendall said.
Castro made clear Friday he hasn't abandoned his San Antonio loyalties. With nudging from Obama, Castro cheered his hometown Spurs basketball team now facing the Oklahoma Thurder in the Western Conference finals of the NBA playoffs.
"Go Spurs Go!" Castro said.