(This article was originally published on Saturday, May 17, 2014)
President Obama reportedly is preparing to nominate Mayor Julián Castro to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, according to San Antonio political sources, although a Cabinet shakeup could thrust Castro into an even higher profile seat.
The news of Castro’s reported departure was first reported by columnist Brian Chasnoff in the Express-News Saturday morning. Shortly after this article was posted on the Rivard Report, the New York Times confirmed Castro has been offered and accepted the HUD post.
“It makes sense for him to go now in terms of his national political ambitions to build his resume if he wants to be a viable vice presidential candidate,” said one longtime political leader here. “He can see what’s happening in the current state races and the likelihood is that nothing is going to change dramatically for the next 10 years on that front.”
In other words, Texas will stay red for the foreseeable future, and Castro, who lost his first bid to be elected mayor, has shown no interest in engaging in long-shot political contests.
Former New York City housing commissioner Shaun Donovan has served as HUD Secretary since 2009. There have been no announcements regarding his departure, which made me hedge the reports from local sources about Castro going to HUD. Castro would command far more influence in the nation’s cities and improve his own political trajectory if he were to become Secretary of Transportation or Education.
One month ago, Pres. Obama nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House budget office, to replace Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw implementation of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare. It now appears Donovan will fill Burwell’s job as budget director.
The actual announcement from the White House about Castro is expected to come later this week. Reports swept through San Antonio political circles Friday night that Castro was heading to Washington, and that Secret Service and FBI agents would be in the city to vet Castro before the official announcement and eventual confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. In Castro’s case, the background check is expected to be a formality.
“He doesn’t smoke, drink, do drugs, and there are no girls,” quipped one political source. “In this day and age, it’s unusual, but he and his brother are above reproach.”
Castro would be the second San Antonio mayor to become HUD secretary. Henry Cisneros, who served as mayor from 1981-89, served as HUD secretary under President Bill Clinton from 1993-97. The political fallout from payments to a former mistress overshadowed Cisneros’ major policy initiatives that began to transform urban housing policies, moving the federal government away from large, crime-infested projects toward mixed housing initiatives a drive to make home ownership more affordable for low-income families.
The news has upended San Antonio politics like no other time in memory, setting off a scramble on City Council, whose 10 members will decide for themselves who will serve as mayor for the rest of Castro’s unexpired third term.The mayor does not get to vote on his successor. The interim mayor must be selected from the current Council, according to several council members.
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Castro’s decision will lead many to say he is putting his own political ambitions ahead of his promise to remain mayor of San Antonio “as long as the voters will have me,” which he has stated on the Rivard Report in the past when speculation arose about him joining President Obama for a second term cabinet post.
In April 2012, the Rivard Report published Castro Commits: Mayor Until 2017 ‘If Voters Will Have Me.’
If nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, Castro will leave a largely inexperienced City Council to preside over city business at a critical moment. Collective bargaining with the police union over a new five-year contract is tense, with city officials looking to end a 25-year run of union officials winning a rich array of health care, special pay and retirement benefits not matched in other cities. Collective bargaining with the firefighters union is expected to follow the same path.
Council also faces key decisions on development fees as officials at the San Antonio Water Systems, or SAWS, seek to double those costs to make developers help pay more of the cost of the city’s sprawling and expensive suburban expansion.
Castro’s SA2020 program and his “Decade of Downtown” platform also are put at risk by his move, and will now be regarded by many as promising, but unfinished initiatives.
Mayor Castro did not return a telephone call seeking comment, but presumably will acknowledge in the coming days what the rest of the city already has accepted as the new reality: San Antonio’s mayor is leaving to join his brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, in the nation’s capital.