San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro Cites Power of Cities to Lead Change

“Cities are where things get done in America,” according to San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. He spoke Tuesday at Sanford School of Public Policy about his path to political leadership, his career in public service and his vision for the city as the fourth speaker in the Hart Leadership Program’s Connect2Politics series. The series focuses on the contributions being made by young politicians.

Castro came to national attention when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012. He was the first Latino to deliver the speech, and was introduced by his identical twin brother, Joaquin, a congressman from Texas.

The Castros grew up in San Antonio, raised by a single mother who was very politically active. The twins were “dragged to rallies and handing out leaflets” at an early age. At the time, he thought of politics as boring, Castro said.

After attending Stanford University and then Harvard Law School, Castro returned to San Antonio to practice law and begin his political career. At age 26, he became the youngest city council member.

San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, with 1.3 million people. As mayor, Castro is working to combine the best of what he saw in the Bay Area, with higher levels of education, income and entrepreneurship, with the best of San Antonio, in its diversity, friendliness and character. 

He has led projects to “create a reservoir of brainpower in a lively culturally rich city.” In 2010, the city voted to raise the sales tax to support an expansion of preschool for four-year-olds. His administration has focused on “the fundamentals of good governance,” such as water, public safety and basic services, and programs to expand the job base beyond tourism and the military.

“What happens in San Antonio bodes well for the rest of the United States,” he said.

During the Q&A period with the audience, he was asked about the changing demographics of the city.

“I have not found a single example of a city that has handled gentrification well,” he said. San Antonio is at the beginning of this process and he hopes to find a way to get different groups to participate in finding a solution. 

As to the changing demographics, “This is one of the most under analyzed and under reported stories” in the state, he said. The influx of people from other states, who are more moderate politically and socially, also brings expectations of a higher level of amenities and services such as public transportation and parks. In San Antonio, Castro is working on a street car project, “which is being resisted by the Tea Party,” he said.

“Texas is so much bigger; it takes longer for these changes to be felt,” he said.