President Barack Obama, following in the footsteps of President Bill Clinton 20 years ago, picked a young Hispanic mayor of San Antonio to become the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Like Henry Cisneros, who was selected by Clinton in 1993 as HUD secretary, three-term San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro is a rising star in the Democratic Party who, if confirmed by the Senate, will be one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in the federal government.
He will replace HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, whom Obama will name to head the White House Office of Management and Budget.
There’s little doubt that Castro, whose twin brother Joaquin is a member of Congress, was chosen for the position because of his overall star-power and his particular appeal to a major part of the Democratic base. His being tapped to give the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention was a major part of his carefully orchestrated advancement.
Castro’s back story of being raised by a single mother and then going on to graduate with honors from Stanford and earn a law degree from Harvard doesn’t hurt the political narrative that surely will be used in some of the mid-term elections this year, including helping to get out the Latino vote for Democrats in Texas.
The politics no doubt will help his party, but what can/will Castro do for the gigantic HUD agency and the people it was designed to serve?
The San Antonio mayor, who when elected was the youngest of any mayor among the nation’s 50 largest cities, has put together an impressive résumé besides his education, demonstrating determination, vision and compassion, all attributes that would be beneficial in serving a complex department like HUD.
He has fought to revitalize San Antonio’s urban core by attracting inner-city investment and creating more affordable housing units there.
Two years ago, in a bold and unprecedented move, he called on San Antonio voters to approve expanding high-quality universal pre-K programs to thousands of 4-year-olds. The measure passed.
HUD, created in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program, was designed to provide sustainable affordable housing for millions of Americans who were living in substandard conditions.
The agency has gone through several incarnations over the years, from trying to maintain over-crowded, underfunded and mismanaged giant urban “projects” to community redevelopment that included demolishing “ghettos” to relocating public housing residents in private developments with Section 8 funding.
Cisneros, before leaving office because of personal indiscretions, was crucial in helping to transform HUD during the 1990s, and Castro can certainly learn from some of his initiatives.
Obama’s choice for HUD secretary is a young, smart, capable leader who could bring some much-needed new energy and new ideas to the oversized, cumbersome agency.
That is something Castro can do, if he concentrates more on the needs of HUD than he does his own political career and the increasing demands of the Democratic Party.