Politics & Policy

Julian Castro, Hillary’s Rumored Veep Pick, Wasn’t a Real Mayor

(Alex Wong/Getty)

Months before the 2016 election really begins in earnest, there is serious speculation that Hillary Clinton, the near-inevitable Democratic-party presidential nominee, has already settled on her vice-presidential pick: Julián Castro. The former mayor of San Antonio has already gotten his share of glowing media coverage, and his appointment as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development has given him some national cred.

But even a cursory glance at Castro’s curriculum vitae reveals a laughably thin set of accomplishments, betraying the real reasons why Castro is in the conversation — reasons that liberal Latino pundits and organizations are all too willing to overlook in the name of electoral success.

Julián Castro is often introduced as the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Presumably, journalists and the general public think of this as a major accomplishment and a useful dose of executive experience — it is, after all, a city of 1.4 million people. But San Antonio doesn’t work like most high-profile American cities, such as New York and Chicago, which are largely run by their mayors. It runs under the council-manager form of government, meaning the city council appoints a city manager who actually handles the day-to-day operations of government.

Sheryl Sculley, San Antonio’s current city manager, will make $400,000 this year for her troubles; whereas until this May, the mayor was paid about $4,000 annually. Castro’s job was essentially to be a professional ribbon cutter. He could blather on about policy goals and direction, but had no substantive power to realize it. Mayor Castro was to Sheryl Sculley as Queen Elizabeth II is to David Cameron — with even less executive authority. Yet for many Democrats, this is still apparently sufficient to qualify for “rising star” status.

After serving two-and-a-half terms as city mascot mayor, on July 28, 2014, Castro assumed office as HUD secretary. Even assuming Castro remains in charge of HUD until November 2016, he will have just over two years of decision-making experience of a middling federal department.

This is the man Democrats are willing to place a heartbeat away from the presidency? Social media may have atrophied our short-term memory, but it’s not hard to recall the charges of “inexperienced” and “unqualified” leveled against a certain governor of Alaska in 2008. Even Clinton-aligned strategists admit she had more experience than Castro would at selection time.

Regardless, Latino Democratic pundits would do their best to downplay Castro’s inexperience and suggest that, given his Mexican background, he’s the true Latino in the race, compared with Cuban Americans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. But considering that Jeb Bush speaks Spanish more fluently than Castro does, and Castro’s personal history is less relatable to many Latino immigrants than Rubio’s — the Castros have been in the U.S. since 1922 — they’ll have their work cut out for them. This is, of course, not meant to dismiss or diminish Castro’s Latino identity; it’s just important to note that Cruz and Rubio have already had their identities and relation to the broader Latino community questioned on similar grounds.

#related#Castro’s prominence highlights how non-existent Latino Democrats are on the national stage. Senator Bob Menendez is the only Democrat representing a state at the federal level, and Democratic-party leaders are feeling the heat from Latino activists alleging there’s not enough support for Latino candidates in Senate and gubernatorial campaigns. Meanwhile, the GOP can cite current governors Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez as infinitely more qualified potential VP nominees, never mind the two senators running for president.

The roles have reversed from 2008 and 2012: Hillary Clinton is the old and busted candidate, in need of a youthful partner, while the GOP doesn’t lack for vigor, in the form of Rubio, Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. The Democrats may need a game changer, and they’re desperate for someone to revitalize a disillusioned Latino voting bloc no matter how inadequate the qualifications. Castro as the answer would be blatant pandering. And it would be laughable — if it weren’t so insulting to Latinos’ intelligence.

— Samuel A. Rosado is an attorney residing in New Jersey. He served as executive director of the Republican Hispanic Assembly of New Jersey in 2010 and has been a freelance contributor and writer on Hispanic issues and engagement. You can reach him on Twitter at @SamARosado.

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