He was having none of it. Julian Castro — the rising star among Democrats, the U.S. housing secretary and former San Antonio mayor — will now until whenever it happens have to face the question. What do you make of all the attention, all the talk, that you will become the party’s nominee for vice president in 2016?
He heard it more than once on Monday in Kansas City.
He had just delivered a crisp luncheon speech about Latino pride, achievement and opportunity at the conference of the National Council of La Raza. He mentioned the NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa, who went from humble beginnings to become the first Latina in outer space. He praised Sonio Sotomayor for her rise “from public housing in the Bronx all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.” And he highlighted the feel-good accomplishment of 17-year-old Fernando Rojas, son of Mexican immigrants in Fullerton, Calif., who graduated from high school this spring and was accepted into all eight Ivy League colleges (he chose to go to Yale).
Those life stories were reminders, Castro said, that “opportunity, even in America, has never been guaranteed.” And they buttressed his belief that the most important work is to shape “a future where every child has a chance to thrive.”
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But now here he was, having been whisked from the speaker’s podium, through the long convention center kitchen, past a couple of security squads and into a small room where he took media questions for a few minutes.
And, of course, the question came up again.
Speculation about Castro’s political future accelerated a couple of months ago when Henry Cisneros declared in a Univision interview that the 40-year-old Texan was presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s No. 1 choice for running mate, and perhaps the only choice. It was no small matter that Cisneros is another former San Antonio mayor who also served as HUD secretary, under President Bill Clinton. “When you look at the field,” Cisneros said at the time, “it’s hard to see how Hillary would do any better.”
But Castro has developed a stock response to the early handicapping and the pestering question.
“It’s flattering,” he told a small bevy of reporters here on Monday, “but there really is not anything to make of it. I’m focused on my work at HUD. This is not like something you run for. Nobody signs up for that. So I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing.
“As I’ve said before, the best way to insure you have a good future in life is to pay attention to what you’re doing now. So I’m trying to do a great job at HUD.”
That job has brought Castro to Missouri more than once recently. He was in Ferguson earlier this year to help launch a new “Promise Zones” program, promoting coordinated efforts at economic development in depressed areas. This week, in a conference call with the press, Castro was touting a new effort to bring broadband Internet to public housing residents in a pilot program in Kansas City and 27 other communities. Among his other major priorities at HUD is ending homelessness among military veterans.
Castro’s personal story is another of those tales of Latino success, fueled by hard work, high aspiration and affirmative action. He and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, were born to a single mother, whose own mother crossed the border from Mexico as a 6-year-old orphan, according to published accounts. Curiously, the Castro brothers do not speak Spanish.
Close up, Castro is soft spoken, but direct and focused. He looks you straight in the eye. He expects that Latino turnout in the 2016 election will bounce back from the midterm numbers last year. But that’s as far as he would go in assessing the election season and his role in it.
“I haven’t gotten involved in the 2016 race,” Castro re-emphasized. “I anticipate at some point down the road getting involved. But right now I’m staying out of it.”
Stay tuned. With one in six Americans of Hispanic descent, political history could be happening just around the bend.