“Instead of a Mop, I…Hold This Microphone”: Julián Castro Goes National

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By Robert Rivard

I listened to the first half of Mayor Julián Castro’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday evening the way all Americans once heard such speeches: huddled around the radio. Imagination gave my mind’s eye a picture of the Charlotte arena where thousands of delegates and party faithful waved placards, applauded and chanted. But then I came inside to watch the rest on television. I’m a baby boomer: I had to see Castro, his facial expressions, his body language, his mother, Rosie, his wife, Erica, his three-year-old daughter, Carina Victoria.

America has just found a new leader to follow, and San Antonio has just lost a mayor. So I thought to myself, watching Castro deliver the speech of his lifetime. For selfish reasons, as I’ve written here before, I hope that is not true. I hope it was a gut feeling that came only in the emotion of the moment, and as pulses slow and excitement lapses back into routine, we see Castro returning to the city and the job he fits so perfectly right now.

But nothing is black and white, and there are other places Castro will fit the bill just as well, too, and they are not in San Antonio. Castro has been a precocious public figure from the very beginning. More poised and earnest as a Jefferson High School student than any teenager deserved to be. More promising as Stanford undergraduates than anyone in San Antonio memory, he and twin brother, Joaquín, already the subject of political speculation in a city still watching the ascendancy of former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. And by the time the twins walked the stage to collect their diplomas at Harvard Law School, no one doubted the inevitable: The Castros were coming home, a new generation dedicated to public service. (By the way, fellow radio listeners, boo on National Public Radio reporters for talking over the entire introduction of Julián by brother Joaquín.)

There were stumbles along the way for Castro, notably his first mayoral campaign, which ultimately and thankfully led to the election of Mayor Phil Hardberger. But no one has ever accused Julián or Joaquín of not being the quickest of studies. Failure and experience tempered Julián, and what San Antonians have seen these last four years was showcased in prime time last night in Charlotte.

I’ve long been a student of good and great public speakers, and I’ve had the privilege of introducing Mayor Castro on stage, of preceding him at the microphone, and, unfortunately, on occasion, following him at the microphone. He has always been good. But good isn’t great.

Tuesday night Castro was great. Not perfect, but great. Speechwriters could have given him one more unforgettable line, a few more powerful transitions and applause lines. In sum, though, Castro pulled it off in spades. He built slowly and finished strong, in English and well-accented Spanish. He told his family’s personal story of a three generation passage from migration out of Mexico into the realm of American leadership. Castro told the story with emotion, humility, honesty, and absolutely, with authenticity.

And here is what I’ve never seen so strongly from Julián: His face and voice filled with fire, his trademark cool so evident at home and at the start of the speech, abandoned for something new and different, something more heated, something that could light up an arena in Charlotte and living rooms everywhere.

Thematically, the metaphor of the relay race, of defending the middle class, of declaring America’s doors still open to new generations seeking opportunity, these were themes that will resonate for President Barack Obama on the campaign trail and help his team craft messages that focus voters on future possibilities rather than the unfulfilled aspirations of a first presidential term.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Castro asserted and attacked, lives in another America, a more elitist America, a more selfish America,  a country club nation of haves and have-nots. Many will agree with Castro; many will not. And there lies the last relay of a great race that starts now and ends on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Tuesday night, on a national stage in Charlotte, was the most intensely partisan moment of Julián Castro’s public life, and it was that electrifying moment that made me wonder if San Antonio was losing its mayor as America gains a new voice of inspiration. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was just one night. Or, maybe I’m right.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

10 thoughts on ““Instead of a Mop, I…Hold This Microphone”: Julián Castro Goes National

  1. Good recap of Castro’s speech. After having worked with Mayor Castro since the second mayoral campaign, I was wondering myself who would walk on stage. Every stage of his political career has helped shape the next one. Castro does what some politicians fail to do, learn from the past to shape the future. The question will be what future holds, especially in such a red state as Texas.

  2. Your comments remind me of Chris Matthews getting a tingle up his leg after hearing Obama speak. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    • Thanks, Mike. I can live with that. I also realize I’m sticking my neck out with my views on Mayor Castro, his potential political trajectory, and his speech tonight. I know many others here and elsewhere will disagree fiercely. Frankly, that’s what drives me. I am confident in my point of view and welcome challengers with the same vigor and enthusiasm as supporters.

  3. No doubt I’m biased, but I can’t imagine an objective observer disagreeing with your assessment, Mr. Rivard. That speech was electrifying. Made this cynical old former McCarthy Youth wanna stand up and cheer, and gave me hope that he and his generation will bring the Democrats back to what they should be. I was terrifically impressed, and I’ve been bragging all over the web about “my mayor.”

  4. Was impressed by the mayor’s speech – it had all the ingredients to be a good keynote: story telling, local shout outs, humor, call-and-response, attack dog and backing his guy. Regardless of political ideology, San Antonio came out ahead by having the mayor on the national stage.

  5. The Castro family and I have mutual friends and I got to know Julian a bit after he came back to San Antonio. I had just moved to the city myself and we are the same age, so I was very interested in his political aspirations. I haven’t lived in San Antonio since 2007, but have followed both of the Castros on their political journeys. Last night my husband heard them the first time, and now understands why I believe one or both of the Castro brothers will be candidate for VP in the next round.

  6. I think it is far too easy to say Castro’s speech was a success. Let’s take a historical perspective. Would the speech rank up there with other conventioneers of the past? Does it have the bombastic and yet cross-convention tone of the greats of the past conventions? Was there a lasting message you took home with you and will remember for a long time?

    All these questions and more amount to a resounding “no”. In fact, the speech was sophomoric not only in its message but its partisanship.

    If you are looking for a story of a Mexican-immigrant family that makes it, well, plenty exist. Simply having a good story is not a qualifier for a good speech, NOR, I remind many, a good candidate…

    Let me say I like Mayor Castro. I like his approach to this city. I feel he’s reached out to the people of this city to make it a better place, even if some things may not turn out well. He is a good mayor. Great? no. But good for sure!

    I believe his youthfulness and inexperience showed. He chose the hyper-partisanship line of speech accustom to PResident Obama instead of opting for the wonderful prose of former President Clinton’s political tongue. In this, history can be quite a sharp knife, and where I expect in 20 years, looking back, the speech will be seen as part of a incredibly divisive era. Not one that was part of the healing and structural repair to America and its citizens post a deep recession, errant policies, and extreme positions.

    I fear this is a byproduct of young politicians that have never waged their efforts in business (whether private or non-profit or volunteer), yet only through the war of politics. Its corrupting, and when young, you are taken by its partisanship as a means of survival, and thus without the wisdom and maturation to speak against and with and to the other side of the aisle.

    Unfortunately, this will likely not change. I hope it does. In the meantime, I wish Mayor Castro much success in our city. What does his future post the mayorship look like? I am afraid it just got foggier. Simply being a hispanic will not win. There are many republican hispanics in Texas being groomed for office (see Cruz as the latest/most recent).
    But only time will tell.

    In the meantime, we can all celebrate the job our Mayor continues to perform for us in San Antonio.

  7. Well this writer is definitely correct. I am a proud San antonian and will miss Mayor Castro as he moves up in the world to HUD secretary.

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