Politics

Second Chance in San Antonio

For a few months in 2005, people in San Antonio were talking about Julián Castro as the Hispanic Barack Obama. The city councilman, educated at...
by | April 30, 2009
 

For a few months in 2005, people in San Antonio were talking about Julián Castro as the Hispanic Barack Obama. The city councilman, educated at Harvard and Stanford, was the favorite to be elected mayor of the nation's seventh-largest city. Smart, thoughtful and earnest, a product of the barrio, the 30-year-old Castro seemed launched on a political career with no upper limits. Then a strange thing happened: He didn't make it.

Now, four years later, Castro is again San Antonio's leading mayoral candidate. If he wins, the predictions about his future may resurface.

One reason Castro lost in 2005 was because of a bizarre minor scandal that came to be known as "Twin-gate." Julián's identical twin brother Joaquín turned up at the annual River Parade while Julián was at an event elsewhere in the city. Joaquín boarded a city council float, was identified as Julián, and made no attempt to correct the mistake. The brothers said it was nothing more than a misunderstanding; others called it an immature prank, or even an unethical attempt to deceive the voters.

But there were more substantive reasons why Castro fizzled out four years ago. The unpopular outgoing mayor, Ed Garza, was also young and from the same part of the city as Castro. "The dynamics of that race were totally colored by the previous mayor," says Jaime Castillo, a columnist with the San Antonio Express-News. "The city was kind of saying, 'Do we want another young mayor?' Julián was fighting that from day one."

Castro placed first in the primary, but questions about his readiness and a lack of business support doomed him in the runoff. Former Judge Phil Hardberger, age 70, prevailed by around 3,800 votes.

This time, Castro seems intent on doing things differently. Despite his close labor ties, he has lined up support from key business leaders. He also leads his three major rivals in fundraising. It appears that he stands a decent chance of surpassing 50 percent in the May 9 primary, allowing him to avoid a runoff.

Then again, few rule out the possibility that history might repeat itself. His critics still view him as too young, too ambitious and too close to labor in a city where unions traditionally have been very weak. If he doesn't win a majority in the first round, he could be in trouble. "The anybody-but-Julián vote is very strong," says Chip Haass, a former councilman who is backing Castro. "We've got to win this one without a runoff."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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