When news broke that San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had been tapped as the next secretary of housing and urban development, the tongues started wagging.
Is this good for Castro’s political future? Does this mean he wants to be Hillary Clinton's vice president? Why would somebody join a waning White House Cabinet in its sunset years?
Perhaps it’s not all just about political calculation. Maybe Castro believes he has contributions to make, and things to learn. But on either front — career advancement or wing-stretching — joining the Cabinet is a good move for Castro.
Some on the right have said serving as HUD secretary wouldn’t qualify someone to run nationally, apparently forgetting about Jack Kemp, a former HUD secretary and the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee.
Those same critics might have also forgotten about vice presidential nominees like Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle, who have proven that one definition of “vice presidential material” is “they’re still breathin’.”
The political logjam in San Antonio politics also helps explain Castro’s other options — or lack thereof.
“Texas will be a swing state in X years,” political observers say. And therein lies Castro’s challenge: Will Texas turn purple before or after he’s done serving as mayor? And if he chose to stay in San Antonio politics, where would he go? Members of Congress tend to stay in Congress until they’re put in a coffin or in jail. State Senate? There are about 20 people in San Antonio who have been hoping for years that Leticia Van de Putte would move up or out, because that’s the only way they’d get a shot at her coveted Senate district. She’ll still be the state senator if she isn’t elected lieutenant governor in the fall.
Even if Wendy Davis or Van de Putte wins in November, Castro would be unlikely to run against a Democratic incumbent four years from now. If Democrats don’t become viable statewide for at least another election cycle, Castro would be out of office by then — he’s limited to four terms — and losing star power by the minute. Few things interrupt the up-and-comer narrative like having the word “former” as part of your credentials (as in “former San Antonio mayor”).
In fact, quick: Name a former San Antonio mayor who's not Henry Cisneros. Couldn’t come up with one, could you? And the main reason you remember Cisneros is probably because, ironically, he went on to serve as HUD secretary — a national figure with grown-up political and policy cred.
What better move could Castro make than to take on a national role where he can learn national issues and build a national reputation? What he needs — a couple of years in the trenches alongside the big D.C. decision-makers — he’ll get at HUD.
I doubt Castro has concluded yet that he wants to be vice president. But serving as HUD secretary will provide him with the résumé that shows he can handle big national jobs.
What Castro has is star power, drive and intelligence. What he didn’t have before now is a plan. This is a good one.