Friday, October 5, 2012
Julian Castro's Greatest Asset | Casey's Last Word
I’m not saying Julian Castro nurtured his ambitions early, but he first called me about 17 or 18 years ago when he was an undergraduate at Stanford and I was an Express-News columnist.
He was home on a break and wanted to have breakfast to talk about what was going on in San Antonio.
It became a regular event on his visits home from Stanford and, later, from Harvard Law School.
We usually met at Pico de Gallo, the bustling restaurant on the west end of downtown.
It was a good place to watch city council members being wooed over tacos by City Hall lobbyists.
I enjoyed the sessions. Julian was a bright young man and a good conversationalist. I’m sure he impressed others he similarly sought out.
In late 2000 or early 2001, after he graduated and was working with the San Antonio office of the giant Akin Gump law firm, he set up another breakfast.
This time his twin brother Joaquin was with him. He also was working at Akin Gump.
Julian quickly got to the point of this meeting.
He was planning to run for City Council and wanted to know my opinion of his chances.
It was an audacious move. At 26, Julian was seeking to become the youngest San Antonio city councilman ever elected at that time.
I began my response with a question for him. It was a test: What did he think was his strongest political asset?
He aced it.
“Mom,” he said cheerily, without hesitation or youthful embarrassment.
Rosie Castro had been involved in politics since organizing a Young Democrats Club at Our Lady of the Lake College in the 1960s. But the Texas Democratic Party wasn’t exactly heaven for Hispanics back in those days.
Texas was a one-party state, dominated by conservative Democrats.
One example of the party’s attitude toward Hispanics: When Rosie Castro came of age, all the state legislators in Bexar County were elected county-wide.
The scheme was quite transparent, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this system in Bexar County (and Dallas County) was an unconstitutional method of effectively excluding blacks and Mexican-Americans from the political process.
San Antonio’s entire city council was also elected city-wide.
During the 20-year reign of the Good Government League, which ended in the mid-1970s, the council regularly included a couple of Hispanics and a black, but with few exceptions they were hand-picked by the League’s leaders in closed sessions – and they knew who put them there.
It’s hardly a surprise that Rosie Castro became disaffected from the Democratic Party, and active in the fledgling Raza Unida Party that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
In 1971 she ran for City Council under the Raza Unida banner, and lost.
Although Raza Unida gained traction by winning city and county posts in a couple of rural areas, it faded by the late 1970s.
But Rosie continued to pursue politics and community activism.
She became an ombudsman for the San Antonio Housing Authority, and was a major organizer for long-time City Councilwoman Maria Berriozabal.
By the time Julian ran for City Council, there weren’t many politically aware citizens on the West Side of San Antonio who didn’t know and respect Rosie.
She was, indeed, young Julian’s greatest asset.
It was good to see Julian give his mother recognition at the Democratic National Convention.
But given the tenor of national politics, it is not surprising that her son’s prominence and promise made her a target for some in the Republican Party.
More on that in another program.