Senate Panel Considers Mayor Castro To Be HUD Secretary

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San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, 39, is in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, for his first hearing on his nomination to be the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, is in Washington today for a nomination hearing. He is President Obama's choice to become the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Ryan Loyd of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio reports on how Castro has made the move to the national stage.

RYAN LOYD: In downtown San Antonio, traffic scoots steadily along streets near City Hall, where Julian Castro often walks to city council meetings. The city's congenial, good-looking mayor has been in office for five years - a good length of time because of a change in term limits. So he's been able to take on what he calls the big projects.

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MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO: Of improving educational achievement, of enhancing our economic development to get 21st-century jobs here and of ensuring that our urban core is revitalized.

LOYD: One of Castro's ambitious goals was to build 7,500 affordable housing units in and around downtown by 2020. More than a third are under construction or are finished. And in announcing his nomination, President Obama cited his work revitalizing San Antonio, which is now the nation's seventh-largest city.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This year, my administration named the East side of San Antonio a promise zone - a place where citizens and the federal government are working together to remake the community family by family and block by block.

LOYD: Castro's personal background is also appealing. He is the grandson of a Mexican immigrant. And his mother, Rosario, raised Julian and his twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and put them and then herself through school. Both her boys graduated from Harvard Law school.

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HELLER: So yesterday, you guys worked a lot to kind of discover who am I in my culture.

LOYD: At Thomas Jefferson High School, history classes, like Ms. Heller's today, teach the Castro legacy. Carita Thomas is Julian Castro's former chemistry teacher and says the mayor was a quiet student and focused on academics.

CARITA THOMAS: He was always a planner. So he was a leader in the laboratory. I was hoping he would go into science (laughing).

LOYD: But Castro's biggest asset may be his political connections. He has a big backer in Henry Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio, who also went on to serve as HUD secretary under President Clinton. Cisneros grew up with Castro's mom, who he calls Rosie.

HENRY CISNEROS: I remember Rosie from kindergarten. She worked in the city government during the years that I was mayor and then both Julian and Joaquin were one class behind my daughter at Stanford.

LOYD: The former HUD secretary says he is now prepping the potential next HUD secretary.

CISNEROS: On many of the things that are most important to HUD, and therefore to a HUD secretary, San Antonio has excelled. So one of the most important obligations of the HUD secretary is to focus on homelessness. Those Americans who are completely unhoused have to be one of our highest priorities.

LOYD: Political science professor Walt Wilson, at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says there was another reason Obama might want Castro in Washington.

WALT WILSON: The Obama administration needs some top Hispanics or Latinos in some of those cabinet posts. And so Julian Castro is ready-made to fit that bill.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Motion carries. Let's go to item number 24.

LOYD: Back at City Hall, Councilman Ray Saldana talks sentimentally about the prospect of Castro leaving.

RAY SALDANA: Losing him at that seat, we'll be losing somebody who thinks about this city in terms of the next 20 years and the next, you know, generation.

LOYD: While the confirmation process in Washington, D.C., is only just beginning, the city council in San Antonio is already thinking of how to replace Julian Castro and maintain momentum for the city's rise. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Loyd in San Antonio.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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