Mayor Julián Castro was confirmed as the next Secretary of Housing & Urban Development by a strong, bipartisan 71-26 vote in the U.S. Senate Wednesday morning, a move that will trigger his resignation in the coming weeks after five years as San Antonio mayor. Castro is expected to be sworn in as member of President Obama’s Cabinet later this month.
“My intention is to resign after the new mayor has been selected, and within the next couple of weeks we will likely have that specially-called meeting to select the new mayor,” Castro said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “I’ll leave my advice and comments for the new mayor to the conversation that the new mayor and I have. However, I am very confident that among the council members there is the leadership abilities to continue to do a great job, to lead this city well. No matter what job you are in, it’s never about one person. It’s about a strong team effort and the fact is we have very strong Council when you think about the modern history of San Antonio public service.”
Castro said he sees “several people on the council” who he believes would make strong mayors.
Castro’s nomination was introduced in June by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a conservative Republican with deep ties to San Antonio, where he lived and worked before winning state office as Attorney General and then winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Cornyn voted in favor of Castro’s confirmation on Wednesday, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 25 other Republicans opposed confirmation in a roll call vote, which occurs without debate. Eighteen Republican senators joined Democrats in supporting Castro’s nomination.
While Mayor Castro watched the Senate vote on television in San Antonio, his twin brother Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) watched from the Senate gallery, and afterwards said in a statement, “I’m proud of Julian and excited for our country.” The mayor was in Washington D.C. earlier this week, according to the Washington Post, which reported that he met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and that one day later Reid announced the confirmation vote would be held Wednesday morning.
At his brief, 15-minute press conference Wednesday afternoon, the 39-year-old mayor’s remarks straddled two worlds: his future as HUD Secretary in Washington and his five years serving as mayor, which included two successful re-election campaigns.
“It is my honor today to be confirmed by the United States Senate as the 16th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,” Castro said in his opening remarks Wednesday. “I want to thank President Obama for his confidence in me. I want to thank the United States Senate for a strong bipartisan vote. I want to thank the HUD staff as well for their help and professionalism over the last few weeks, and I also want to thank the people of San Antonio for their support and the way we have worked together over the last few years to make San Antonio a better place to live and do business.
“I think of HUD as the Department of Opportunity,” Castro said. “HUD plays a unique role in helping to foster prosperity in our nation. Throughout my life in public service I have always been guided by one position, that is to help create the opportunity that I experienced in my own life. I am very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way in life, and I want to help ensure that other folks have those same opportunities as well.”
Castro said he hadn’t spoken with President Obama since the vote, but was confident he would soon. The White House issued a statement after the vote that quoted President Obama saying, ”I know that together with the dedicated professionals at HUD, Julián will help build on the progress we’ve made battling back from the Great Recession — rebuilding our housing market, reducing homelessness among veterans, and connecting neighborhoods with good schools and good jobs that help our citizens succeed. Julián has lived the American dream in his own life, and I’m confident he will help Americans across our country seize their own piece of that dream for themselves and their children.”
Castro said he watched the vote on television with his wife Erica and five-year-old daughter Carina, and later spoke briefly to his “proud mother,” Rosie Castro.
“It was very meaningful for me to watch the vote today with Erica and Carina and explain to Carina that they were voting on Daddy,” Castro said with a father’s proud smile. “We told her the other day that we might be moving to Washington D.C…. I know that she is still at an age she probably doesn’t understand all of it, but I hope she’s proud.”
Castro, 39, seemed to choke up when he turned to the subject of leaving office and leaving San Antonio for only the second time in his life.
“San Antonio is a very special place for me, the place where I was born and grew up, and after seven years away (at Stanford University and Harvard Law School), was very determined to come back to, and over the last five years, this community has been a treasure to represent,” he said. “Over the last five years we have made great progress in terms of improving our economic development prospects, in terms of helping to ensure that the next generation of San Antonians is well educated so they can be more competitive for a 21st century global economy. And (we’ve worked) to make our city more vibrant so that folks want to live here, want to stay here, and that more folks want to get here as fast as they can.
“So it is for me bittersweet to say goodbye as mayor,” he continued. “Within the next couple of weeks I will do that. Within the next couple of weeks we’ll have the opportunity to have a council meeting specially called for the purpose of selecting a new mayor from among the council members. I am confident that will go off smoothly and that there is plenty of ability and leadership among the council to ensure that from the big issues to the small issues in front of us that San Antonio will continue to be well represented and continue to prosper and continue to be truly a city on the rise.”
Castro is the keynote speaker at a Centro San Antonio luncheon Thursday at the Marriott Rivercenter. The speech he is set to deliver is titled, “The Future of Downtown,” and is expected to draw an A-list audience of nearly 500 business, civic and cultural leaders. Most council members are expected to attend.
The mayor is being introduced by Rackspace Chairman and CEO Graham Weston, a driving force in downtown redevelopment and a former trichair of Castro’s signature SA2020 initiative. Weston Urban, his real estate firm, is planning a major downtown development deal with the city and Frost Bank that would add the first new office tower to the downtown skyline since the Weston Centre opened in 1988, and would spark the redevelopment of several blocks of vacant or underused land and buildings north of Main Plaza in the western downtown.
(Read more: Mayor Castro Unveils Downtown Megadeal)
While Castro’s Thursday speech will encompass a broad range of themes related to his “Decade of Downtown” agenda, he said Wednesday that he was most proud of his early childhood education initiative as mayor.
“The accomplishment that I most proud of, of course, is Pre K for SA,” Castro said. “I feel very blessed to have grown up in this city and gone to public schools and had the opportunity to go on to college and law school and to come back here, and I wanted to do what I could to make sure that more young people, more San Antonians, would have that same kind of opportunity. For many years I saw a gap in what was happening and felt like the city could step into that gap and play a leadership role, and that is exactly what we have done with Pre K For SA, and with Café College, and in other ways.”
A July 22 or 23 Vote to Elect an Interim Mayor
City Attorney Robbie Greenblum, Castro’s former chief of staff, was busy Wednesday contacting the 10 city council members to confirm their availability for a special meeting of City Council on Tuesday, July 22, or Wednesday, July 23. Council members typically plan vacations for July when the City Council is in summer recess. At that special meeting, Castro will preside over the council’s vote to select an interim mayor to serve out the final year of his unexpired term. Castro will not vote for his replacement. A general election to select a new mayor for a full two-year term will be held in May 2015.
Castro is expected to be sworn in as the new HUD Secretary before the end of July. Jaime Castillo, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the swearing-in could occur on Monday, July 28, meaning Castro would enjoy a few days as a private citizen, time that presumably will be spent getting settled in to his new life and work in the capital.
According to the protocol established by the city attorney’s office for selecting an interim mayor, interested candidates among the 10 council members will be required to submit a public “letter of interest” prior to the special city council meeting. Only current city council members are eligible for consideration, according to the 1951 city charter. Council members will then meet to select one of the declared candidates. Council members cannot vote from themselves but are allowed to abstain in any given round of voting to prevent a candidate they oppose from winning a six-vote majority, or they can abstain at the outset to avoid taking a position. In the event none of the declared candidates can muster a six-vote majority, council members will be allowed to nominate a a colleague who did not submit a letter of interest. There also is a process to deal with deadlocked votes, and eliminating candidates who win the least votes if more than two council members apply. As many as five of the 10 council members are believed to be leaning toward seeking the interim mayor’s position. That means the process could lead to a stalemate with no candidate able to muster the six votes needed to win.
Castro said Wednesday he hopes charter reform will be on the November 2016 ballot. It could be placed on this November’s ballot, but the deadline is Aug. 16, making that highly unlikely.
“San Antonio is not the sleepy city it was in 1951 when the current charter was put into effect. It’s not even the town it was in 1991 when term limits back then were put into effect, and fortunately terms limits have been relaxed to eight years,” Castro said. “However, the folks on City Council work a tremendous amount of hours on behalf of their constituents, and I believe that it makes sense for them to be compensated for that work. It’s in the best interests of San Antonio in general, and my hope is that when that comes on the ballot again, San Antonian voters will approve of that because it allows council members to focus even more on serving the public.”
Watch the Senate confirmation hearing on June 17 below via C-SPAN:
*Featured/top image: Mayor Julián Castro stretches to shake hands as he makes his way through the crowd gathered at La Fonda on Main to hear election night results. The Pre-K 4 SA initiative passed on Nov 6, 2012. Photo by Iris Dimmick.