SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The selection of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as keynote speaker at the Democratic presidential nominating convention in September adds jet fuel to the lofty ambitions of a politician often labeled as the most promising Hispanic Democrat in the United States.
Castro, 37, has helped guide the transformation of San Antonio into the nation’s seventh largest city with a healthy economy and a vibrant majority-Hispanic population.
“The mayor certainly reflects what’s going on not just in Texas but across the country with the demographic changes,” said San Antonio attorney and business consultant Joe Krier, an active Republican who worked closely with Castro as former President of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
“Mayor Castro is seen by many as a rising young star in the Democratic Party.”
The choice of Castro as keynote speaker was strategic, as President Barack Obama needs the votes of Hispanics in swing states such as Colorado and Florida to win a second term.
Castro’s life story rivals that of Republican Cuban-American star Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator thought to be on the vice presidential short list of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Castro (who insists that his first name be pronounced the Latino “hoo-lee-AHN,” and not the Anglo ‘JOO-lee-un’), learned politics early at the feet of his single mother Rosie, a leader of the fiery La Raza Unida nationalist Hispanic movement in the 1970s.
She was defeated as a candidate for the San Antonio City Council at a time when Hispanics were essentially shut out of the city’s governing process. Rosie Castro saw to it that her twin sons Julian and Joaquin were both educated at Stanford University and Harvard Law School.
Julian Castro served on the San Antonio City Council for four years before becoming mayor.
Castro said he will detail in his keynote address how government “investments” helped him achieve the American dream.
“The choice that we have in this election is whether we will continue to make the right investments, that the American dream remains available to everyone,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ll talk about how we will continue to have an opportunity to extend that promise to all Americans in the future.”
Castro also realizes he is not the first young San Antonio mayor who has been tagged for greatness.
Thirty-one years ago, Henry Cisneros was elected as the first Hispanic mayor of the city, and later was on former vice president Walter Mondale’s short list of vice presidential choices in 1984.
But Cisneros saw his political hopes crash amid revelations of an affair with a staffer, an FBI investigation into whether he lied about payments he made to the woman, and an indictment for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Cisneros pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of lying to the FBI, and was pardoned by former President Bill Clinton.
Political analysts said it would be too soon to anoint Castro as destined for high office. While the Hispanic population is booming, no Democrat has been elected to statewide office in Texas since 1994.
“I am humbled by this opportunity,” he said of the keynote speech opportunity, joking that “there’s no pressure.”
Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 to rave reviews, beginning a rise to the White House four years later.
Editing by Greg McCune and Todd Eastham