The Democrats’ poster boy on making a difference and shaking off his Latino label.
It’s easy to see why the Democrats are keen to make Julián Castro one of their poster boys: at 41, he’s young; he’s from the delegate-rich state of Texas; and, perhaps most importantly of all, he’s Latino. In the world of US politics – its keen eye trained on demographics and the country’s evolving electorate – he ticks plenty of boxes.
This is why his name keeps on cropping up as a potential vice-presidential candidate in 2016. It’s also why it has been suggested that further down the line – following in the footsteps of the nation’s first black president and possibly its first female leader – Castro may even become the US’s first Latino head of state.
Castro was keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and has been a rising star for some time. He won praise for his five-year spell as mayor of the Texan city of San Antonio and for the last two years has been in Barack Obama’s cabinet as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (Hud). His relative lack of experience may play against him though. He has not made much of an impact in federal government so far and, while he left a positive record as mayor, much of the day-to-day work was handled by a city manger.
For now Castro is coy about his VP chances, preferring to focus on the job in hand: fixing some enormous housing problems. Even if 2016 doesn’t prove to be his year, there is little doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of him – not to mention his twin brother Joaquín, a member of the House of Representatives – in the near future.
Monocle: Do you find it frustrating being put in certain boxes, representing a ‘generation’ or the ‘Latino community’?
Julián Castro: On the one hand I do feel a responsibility to the Latino community to demonstrate to every little girl or boy who doesn’t see that many folks like them in positions like this that it’s meaningful – and that they can do it too. And at the same time being Latino is not the only thing that I am: I’m young, I’m from Texas, I’m a former mayor, I’m a lawyer. All of us have these different aspects; we’re all three-dimensional people.
M: You’re reportedly very close to your brother Joaquín and you advise each other. Are you a political unit?
JC: There’s no question that we’re both interested in politics – we’ve both been at it for 15 years – and it helps that he’s had a similar experience; he’s in Congress. And even though I wouldn’t want his job it does help that he’s there to bounce ideas off.
M: Why did you make the decision to endorse Hillary Clinton?
JC: I believe that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest president that we could have over the next four years.
M: And do you think that she’ll consider you as a running mate?
JC: No. I’ve made it very clear that I expect to be back in Texas next year and that I’ve learned over time that the best way to have a future is to ensure that you do a good job with what’s in front of you. And so I’m trying to do a great job here at Hud and focus on this; I’m glad to lend her my support but I look forward to getting back to San Antonio.
M: You seem like an ambitious person: if you were offered the role would you take it?
JC: I don’t think anybody who is offered that role, whether they are Republican or Democrat, would take that decision lightly. There is no automatic acceptance because it’s very weighty. And so I would hope that whoever the person is, both on the Republican and Democratic sides, would take a moment to actually think about what it entails. There’s a difference between ambition and actually being in the role.
M: What have you made of the Republican race and, in particular, Donald Trump?
JC: It’s disappointing to hear a lot of divisive talk on the other side. It’s not very becoming of someone who wants to be president and certainly not in keeping with the reputation that America has around the world as a welcoming nation.
M: You have talked about a housing ‘Department of Opportunity’; what does that mean in real terms?
JC: It means that housing is a powerful platform to spark greater opportunity in people’s lives. What I’ve tried to preach and embed in the mindset of our employees is that we work hard to ensure that somebody has a roof over their head but it’s about more than that. We’re serving more than 1.1 million families that live in public housing and we want to measure ourselves by how much we do to ensure that the breadwinner in a family is able to get the skills he or she needs to either get a job if they don’t have one or get a better job if they have a lower-level one.
M: You also talk a lot about sustainable neighbourhoods – what are they?
JC: When we talk about sustainable neighbourhoods we talk about neighbourhoods that have a good quality of life and economic opportunity, and are the kind of places that people can afford to live in. So that means a neighbourhood that has good schools, good housing stock and good access to transport.
M: You say that you expect to head back to San Antonio; if that’s the case, what would you be happy doing there after this?
JC: You know, I really don’t have any plan in mind. I’ll look forward to getting back and figuring out the future; we’ll see. But I’ve always had this sense that if you’re prepared to work hard and prepared for new opportunity, things are going to work out.