Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, right, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. Courtesy of National Journal.

Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, right, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. Courtesy of National Journal.

As the Democratic presidential primary revs up, the name Julián Castro is surfacing in the news a lot more. A member of Obama's cabinet and one-half of the brotherly duo that could be the future of the Democratic Party, Julián Castro is being touted as a potential V.P. choice for Hillary Clinton and already getting his vetting in the media. 

In January 2015, I published a double profile of Julián and his twin brother, Joaquin, the Texas congressman. The Castro brothers are the Jack-and-Bobby of our era, and the most promising young(er) figures in an aging Democratic Party with a shockingly small bench. A year later, my story on the Castros remains the most comprehensive look at the brothers.

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The Power of Two: Inside the Rise of the Castro Brothers
America has never seen a political team quite like the Castro brothers.
National Journal Magazine | January 23, 2015

ON A SUMMER morn­ing in 1999, Joa­quin and Ju­lián Castro pulled up in front of a double-wide trail­er a few miles out­side San Ant­o­nio. The twins, back home on break be­fore their fi­nal year at Har­vard Law School, had come to seek wis­dom and ad­vice from Li­onel Sosa, a Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al sage who ran the largest His­pan­ic ad­vert­ising agency in Amer­ica. (He was liv­ing in the trail­er while his fam­ily’s new home was be­ing built nearby.) Politicos across the coun­try knew Sosa as the ad man and con­sult­ant who’d helped Texas Re­pub­lic­ans win sub­stan­tial chunks of the His­pan­ic vote, and who’d led out­reach ef­forts for Ron­ald Re­agan’s and George H.W. Bush’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns. Soon, Sosa would be ad­vising George W. Bush dur­ing his White House run.

Sosa didn’t know the Castro broth­ers, but he did know not to ex­pect right-wing­ers. Their moth­er, Rosie Castro, had been a fiery com­munity or­gan­izer in San Ant­o­nio dur­ing the Chi­cano move­ment of the 1960s and ‘70s; after an un­suc­cess­ful run for city coun­cil in 1971, three years be­fore Joa­quin and Ju­lián were born, she’d re­mained a polit­ic­al force in San Ant­o­nio, chair­ing the county chapter of La Raza Unida, a Chi­cano third party, and run­ning oth­er pro­gress­ives’ polit­ic­al cam­paigns. The twins had grown up tag­ging along to ral­lies, parades, and polit­ic­al func­tions. As Ju­lián re­called in a col­lege es­say later pub­lished in an an­tho­logy called Writ­ing for Change, polit­ic­al slo­gans “rang in my ears like war cries”: “Viva La Raza!” “Black and Brown United!”

It was Rosie Castro who had reached out to Sosa; the two had met at a for­um on the fu­ture of Lati­nos in Amer­ica. Her boys, she told him, were plan­ning to re­turn to San Ant­o­nio and pur­sue some kind of pub­lic ser­vice after they gradu­ated. Would Sosa mind speak­ing with them?

Joa­quin and Ju­lián sat down in the trail­er, Sosa says, and began to pep­per him with ques­tions: Where do you think San Ant­o­nio is headed? Who should we know? After a while, Sosa turned the tables and asked them one: What did they see in their fu­tures? The way Sosa re­mem­bers it, the broth­ers broke out in­to big grins and told him, in uni­son, “We’re go­ing to be may­or of San Ant­o­nio.”

“We’re go­ing to be may­or?” Sosa said. “Which one?”

“One of us will,” said one of the broth­ers.

Sosa, who’s now semire­tired, can re­count little else about the con­ver­sa­tion that day, or what coun­sel he gave the Castros. But their joint reply, he says, stuck with him: “That’s the one thing that got seared in­to my mind. They knew what they wanted in life.” And they knew that they wanted to at­tain it to­geth­er.

 

I RE­CENTLY SPENT two months in the Castros’ or­bit, from just after Elec­tion Day to mid-Janu­ary, in­ter­view­ing and ob­serving them in Wash­ing­ton and San Ant­o­nio, to­geth­er and sep­ar­ately. They can be salty-tongued, charm­ing, funny, and with­er­ing, es­pe­cially when it comes to oth­er politi­cians. Former cam­paign staffers at­test to their fiery tend­en­cies—par­tic­u­larly on the oth­er’s be­half. “Any mis­take on Joa­quin’s cam­paign, and you are mess­ing with Ju­lián,” says Chris­ti­an Arch­er, who’s man­aged races for both broth­ers. The same goes for Ju­lián’s cam­paigns, when Arch­er says Joa­quin has been “as ag­gress­ive as I’ve ever seen him,” de­mand­ing fun­drais­ing totals or email ana­lyt­ics.

But I also found the broth­ers ex­ceed­ingly care­ful, even for polit­ic­al wun­der­kinds on the rise, to cloak their can­did sides. In al­most every con­ver­sa­tion we had, they danced back and forth between be­ing on the re­cord and off the re­cord—some­times from one sen­tence to the next. By the end of our time to­geth­er, I half-ex­pec­ted them to be­gin their lunch or­ders by ask­ing the waiter, “Can this be on back­ground?”

Maybe their reti­cence shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing; after all, they’ve now got a lot to lose. Fif­teen years after vis­it­ing Sosa, the Castro broth­ers’ polit­ic­al ho­ri­zons have broadened well bey­ond San Ant­o­nio. Joa­quin, after a dec­ade in the Texas House, won a seat in Con­gress in 2012 and soon be­came a fix­ture on Sunday talk shows, a go-to sur­rog­ate for Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­mig­ra­tion and eco­nom­ic policies. But the spot­light shines most in­tensely on Ju­lián, the San Ant­o­nio may­or who vaul­ted in­to the na­tion­al con­scious­ness with his key­note ad­dress—the first by a Latino—at the 2012 Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion. Last year, when Ju­lián left the may­or’s job to join Obama’s Cab­in­et as Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment sec­ret­ary, the move stirred wide­spread spec­u­la­tion that he was be­ing po­si­tioned as a po­ten­tial 2016 vice pres­id­en­tial pick for likely nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton. Bar­ring that, Texas Demo­crats have long en­vi­sioned Ju­lián—or maybe Joa­quin?—as the state’s first Latino gov­ernor. Or as a U.S. sen­at­or. Or maybe both.

“The whole idea that they could be gov­ernor, sen­at­or, vice pres­id­ent, pres­id­ent—it ex­cites people,” Rosie Castro told me. “Every­body is wait­ing for the first Latino gov­ernor of Texas. Every­body is wait­ing for that first Latino pres­id­ent or vice pres­id­ent.” And no two Demo­crats are bet­ter placed to real­ize such ex­pect­a­tions than Rosie’s sons. The Re­pub­lic­an Party, des­pite its struggles to at­tract Latino voters, has more Latino politi­cians with na­tion­al pro­files and pro­spects—Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Ru­bio, for starters, along with Govs. Susana Mar­tinez and Bri­an San­dov­al. For Demo­crats, at least for the time be­ing, such hopes hang mostly on the Castro broth­ers.

They are, it seems, the chosen ones: whip-smart, tele­gen­ic politi­cians who’ve ar­rived in the right polit­ic­al place at the right polit­ic­al time. Their life story has a fairy-tale qual­ity that re­port­ers and myth­makers can’t res­ist: Born on Mex­ic­an In­de­pend­ence Day. Raised by a grand­moth­er who im­mig­rated to the United States as an orphan with a fourth-grade edu­ca­tion and a moth­er who agit­ated, or­gan­ized, and was twice jailed for civil dis­obedi­ence in the cause of giv­ing the next gen­er­a­tion—her sons, in par­tic­u­lar—op­por­tun­it­ies she nev­er had. Worked their way up from the bar­rios to Stan­ford, then Har­vard, then one of the coun­try’s most pres­ti­gi­ous law firms. Elec­ted to polit­ic­al of­fices be­fore age 30. Wash­ing­ton darlings at 40. Even if Ju­lián nev­er be­comes vice pres­id­ent or pres­id­ent—even if neither broth­er ever wins a statewide of­fice in Texas—theirs is already so quint­es­sen­tial an Amer­ic­an suc­cess story that Eva Lon­gor­ia, best known for her role in Des­per­ate House­wives, has sold ABC on a polit­ic­al and fam­ily drama series she’s pro­du­cing based on the Castros. Work­ing title: Pair of Aces.

The broth­ers un­der­stand the power and use­ful­ness of the lar­ger-than-life stor­ies that have grown up around them. But there is at least one that they’re eager to shoot down: the “we’re go­ing to be may­or” an­ec­dote that Li­onel Sosa tells. “That’s not true,” Ju­lián Castro says flatly. “I was nev­er so ar­rog­ant to say that I would someday be may­or. Maybe I said, ‘Oh, I’m think­ing about run­ning for city coun­cil.’ ” Sure, he says, “I cer­tainly think that’s [Sosa’s] re­col­lec­tion. But I ser­i­ously, ser­i­ously doubt that.” It’s the type of fable, he says, that “people de­vel­op in their mind, and it sounds good. But it’s the stuff of em­bel­lish­ment.”

Then again, Ju­lián may be for­get­ting something him­self. In 1997, two years be­fore the broth­ers met with Sosa, they had been pro­filed in a San Ant­o­nio news­pa­per as they headed off to Har­vard Law (head­line: “Double the Tal­ent, Twice the Am­bi­tion”), and Ju­lián had spoken about even high­er goals than the one Sosa re­calls: “We do not con­sider the of­fice of gov­ernor or [U.S.] sen­at­or an im­possib­il­ity,” he told the re­port­er.

Today, the Castro broth­ers take pains to be humble. But they’ve al­ways had am­bi­tion in abund­ance. Their pre­cip­it­ous rise has been the res­ult of lofty as­pir­a­tions, care­ful cal­cu­la­tion, fe­ro­cious loy­alty, and deep polit­ic­al prag­mat­ism—qual­it­ies the broth­ers have long shared and mu­tu­ally cul­tiv­ated. “Grow­ing up, I think what’s helped my broth­er and I is, we were so com­pet­it­ive with each oth­er,” says Joa­quin. “Be­cause we’re in the same field, it’s al­lowed us to talk al­most daily. Lets you identi­fy strengths and weak­nesses in your ar­gu­ments.” Colin Stroth­er, a Texas polit­ic­al con­sult­ant who has worked on Joa­quin’s cam­paigns, puts it more bluntly. “You see this syn­ergy with Bill and Hil­lary,” he told me. “Steel sharpens steel.”

 

EVEN FOR TWINS, Ju­lián and Joa­quin were un­usu­ally tight-knit from their earli­est days. They played the same sports, stud­ied the same sub­jects, and, in middle school, even dated girls with al­most identic­al names: Veron­ica Gonza­lez and Veron­ica Gonzales. They com­mu­nic­ated with each oth­er in of­ten-un­spoken ways that fre­quently were bey­ond the ken of every­one around them.

They nev­er truly grew apart. “It is one of the most in­tense re­la­tion­ships that two people could share,” Arch­er says. Even after mar­ry­ing, start­ing fam­il­ies, and fol­low­ing their dif­fer­ent polit­ic­al paths in San Ant­o­nio, Aus­tin, and now Wash­ing­ton, they re­main in­cred­ibly close. (Ju­lián wed Erica Lira, an ele­ment­ary school teach­er, in 2007; they have a 5-year-old daugh­ter and a son who was born in Decem­ber. Joa­quin mar­ried Anna Flores, who works for a San Ant­o­nio tech com­pany, in 2013; they have a 1-year-old daugh­ter.) “They’re not easy people to get to know,” says their long­time friend Diego Bernal, who served on the city coun­cil when Ju­lián was may­or. As chil­dren, they “were the whole world to each other,” says their moth­er, Rosie. It was “hard to pen­et­rate that.”

Neither of the broth­ers is nat­ur­ally out­go­ing; they’ve had to learn to mas­ter the glad-hand­ing, baby-kiss­ing, money-ask­ing skills re­quired of politi­cians. Ju­lián likes to say that in high school he would of­ten talk to two or three people the en­tire day—and one of them was his broth­er. “I was not the life of the party,” as he puts it. “Still am not.” Joa­quin was al­ways the slightly more so­ci­able one: He’d make friends, who would, in turn, be­come Ju­lián’s friends as well. “Ju­lián has al­ways been more in­tro­spect­ive,” Rosie says. “If I had let him, he’d stay home, hang around the house. Joa­quin, too, but he also likes an es­cape, be­ing out in the world.”

Spend enough time around them, talk to enough of their friends, and you pick up small dif­fer­ences: Ju­lián speaks more softly, in a slightly deep­er voice; Joa­quin’s face is slightly thick­er (though the clue I used, when both broth­ers were present, was the Fit­Bit that Joa­quin wears). But the twins seem to share al­most everything else—in­clud­ing the fact that they have per­plex­ing tastes in mu­sic. As a teen­ager, Ju­lián once took a CD of theme songs to TV shows like The Golden Girls and Cheers to a New Year’s Eve cel­eb­ra­tion, and he’s been known to jam to Kenny Ro­gers and Barry Ma­nilow. Joa­quin’s tastes range from Joan Baez to Taylor Swift, with a par­tic­u­lar af­fin­ity for bands (Match­box 20, Count­ing Crows) from the late ‘90s, which he once called “a renais­sance in mu­sic.”

In part, the broth­ers grew in­sep­ar­able be­cause they helped to raise each oth­er. Rosie was the op­pos­ite of a heli­copter mom; she was stretched thin, between work and polit­ics and single-moth­er­ing, but she was also de­term­ined to push “the guys,” as she calls them, out in­to the world. Her im­mig­rant moth­er, Vic­tor­ia, made $8 a day as a maid, cook, and babysit­ter on the north side of San Ant­o­nio; and while her moth­er worked, Rosie’s guard­i­an held tight to her as a child, for­bid­ding her to even walk next door to play with the neigh­bors. (Rosie did some­times ac­com­pany her moth­er on her three-bus com­mute to work, however, and re­calls spend­ing time pick­ing ticks off the dogs that be­longed to one of her moth­er’s em­ploy­ers.) Rosie en­cour­aged Joa­quin and Ju­lián to en­joy the kind of free­dom she nev­er had as a child; they both still re­mem­ber, the sum­mer when they were 9, rid­ing the bus down­town by them­selves to see The Kar­ate Kid at a sketchy theat­er no few­er than five times.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro. Flickr/LBJLibraryNow

HUD Secretary Julián Castro. Flickr/LBJLibraryNow

Their fam­ily wasn’t all that far re­moved from the poverty of Rosie’s youth, es­pe­cially after Rosie and the twins’ fath­er, a Chi­cano act­iv­ist and math teach­er named Jesse Guz­man, sep­ar­ated in 1983 (they nev­er mar­ried). Joa­quin and Ju­lián were 8 when their dad left. They moved with Rosie and their grand­moth­er to a mod­est house near one of Rosie’s cous­ins. The Castros went without a car for years, and for a while, when the boys were in high school, had to rely on money from friends after Rosie was laid off.

The boys still saw their fath­er pretty reg­u­larly on week­ends and took sum­mer fish­ing trips to Garner State Park. When I spoke to Guz­man in Decem­ber at a west-side Mex­ic­an joint called La­guna Jalisco, he talked about his pride in the twins—”I’m very humbled by everything they do”—and re­called one big dif­fer­ence he no­ticed between them. “Ju­lián had a grace­ful way of cast­ing his line out there. Have you read A River Runs Through It? Re­minds me of that book. Ju­lián brought all his tackle and was very or­gan­ized. But Joa­quin didn’t like fish­ing.”

Ju­lián and Joa­quin pushed each oth­er to ex­cel. They stud­ied Ja­pan­ese (Ju­lián) and Ger­man (Joa­quin) at a lan­guage-in­tens­ive ju­ni­or high school in the in­ner city (a child­hood friend de­scribes it as a “max­im­um-se­cur­ity middle school”). They en­rolled in night classes and sum­mer school so they could fin­ish high school a year early. “Part of the reas­on that we were so look­ing to­ward the fu­ture, to­ward suc­cess, is be­cause we had grown up of mod­est means, and we were al­ways wor­ried about fall­ing back,” Joa­quin says. “You want to be sure—I’m go­ing to be OK, I’m go­ing to be OK.”
 
The ela­tion that Joa­quin and Ju­lián felt upon open­ing their ac­cept­ance let­ters to Stan­ford in the spring of 1992 was re­placed by sad­ness and raw nerves on the morn­ing of Sept. 23—even now, Ju­lián re­calls the ex­act date—when they waved good-bye to their par­ents and a crowd of friends and well-wish­ers who’d come to see them off at the San Ant­o­nio air­port. Their fath­er, as Ju­lián tells it, must have pur­chased “the cheapest tick­et on South­w­est Air­lines he could find”; the flight con­nec­ted twice, in El Paso and San Diego, be­fore it reached San Fran­cisco. “It was the first time we’d been away from our fam­ily,” Ju­lián re­called last year in a talk at Notre Dame. “We cried halfway to El Paso on the plane, sit­ting next to each oth­er.”

 

WHEN LU­IS FRAGA gazed out on the room­ful of stu­dents in his urb­an polit­ics course, he no­ticed something that gave him a start: two look-alike broth­ers seated dead cen­ter in his classroom. Be­fore long, Fraga, the only Latino polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist on Stan­ford’s cam­pus at the time, came to know Joa­quin and Ju­lián Castro as two of the sav­vi­est stu­dents he’d ever taught. “It was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent to me,” Fraga says, “that they had an un­der­stand­ing of polit­ics that was deep­er than any oth­er col­lege sopho­mores I’d come across.”

The broth­ers ma­tric­u­lated in Pa­lo Alto as the first high-tech boom was be­gin­ning. Oth­er Stan­ford stu­dents at the time in­cluded Peter Thiel, later the icon­o­clast­ic founder of PayP­al, and Dav­id Sacks, who would go on to sell his com­pany, Yam­mer, for $1.2 bil­lion and own the most ex­pens­ive house in San Fran­cisco. Sil­ic­on Val­ley’s high-rolling eco­nomy and en­tre­pren­eur­i­al eth­os was a far cry from life on the west side of San Ant­o­nio, and the broth­ers felt some cul­ture shock—plus a bit of de­fens­ive­ness about where they came from. “I had a chip on my shoulder about San Ant­o­nio,” Ju­lián says. The broth­ers doubled down on their ho­met­own pride, ur­ging their en­tre­pren­eur­i­al class­mates to “con­sider San Ant­o­nio” after gradu­ation. But they also learned new ways to think about solv­ing so­ci­et­al prob­lems, Fraga says. “It was an at­mo­sphere of cre­ativ­ity and think­ing about tech­no­logy as a po­ten­tial source of solu­tions for all kinds of things. That made a big im­pres­sion on Ju­lián.”

In their ju­ni­or year, both broth­ers ran for the stu­dent sen­ate on the left-lean­ing People’s Plat­form—and an­oth­er myth­mak­ing mo­ment was born. There were 10 seats open, in a mul­tic­an­did­ate race. Joa­quin and Ju­lián cre­ated sep­ar­ate cam­paign fli­ers, but pos­ted them in the same stra­tegic spots around cam­pus—bath­room stalls. (Fraga, who be­came their seni­or ad­viser and then a friend, still calls them the “Stall Twins.”) On elec­tion day, the broth­ers earned ex­actly the same num­ber of votes—811—on their way to be­ing the top vote-get­ters. A front-page story in The Stan­ford Daily posed the broth­ers sit­ting back-to-back in the uni­versity’s his­tor­ic Me­mori­al Court. Read­ing the art­icle, you can prac­tic­ally see them rolling their eyes at the re­port­er’s “What’s it like to be a twin?” ques­tions. “We don’t par­tic­u­larly sub­scribe to twins hav­ing ESP,” Ju­lián is quoted as say­ing. “We get asked that ques­tion mil­lions of times.”

Some day­light began to ap­pear between the broth­ers at Stan­ford. While they mostly took the same classes, they chose not to room to­geth­er. The sum­mer be­fore their ju­ni­or year, they were sep­ar­ated for months when Ju­lián went to Wash­ing­ton as an in­tern in the Clin­ton White House. In the fall of their seni­or year, when Joa­quin was hired as a res­id­ent as­sist­ant in his dorm­it­ory, he felt, for the first time, the weight of fol­low­ing in his broth­er’s foot­steps. (Ju­lián had been an R.A. the year be­fore.) “I don’t think I did as well in the job,” Joa­quin says, “be­cause I felt like I could [only] get the job be­cause he had done it.”

In polit­ics, too, it was be­com­ing clear that Ju­lián—the eld­er broth­er by one minute—would go first. By their third year at Har­vard Law, Ju­lián had already de­cided to run for the San Ant­o­nio City Coun­cil. (Hence the vis­it to Li­onel Sosa, who knew San Ant­o­nio polit­ics as well as any­one.) Dur­ing their fi­nal year, the broth­ers launched the cam­paign from Cam­bridge. They called neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation lead­ers, wrote let­ters to loc­al busi­nesspeople, and flew home on week­ends whenev­er they could to meet and greet pro­spect­ive voters at com­munity gath­er­ings and gar­age sales. (Joa­quin, who doesn’t play golf, still owns an an­cient Ben Hogan 3-wood he bought at one of the sales for $5.) Just be­fore gradu­ation, their law-school class­mates threw Ju­lián his first fun­draiser. The fol­low­ing May, three dec­ades after Rosie lost her own cam­paign at age 23, Ju­lián be­came the young­est coun­cil mem­ber in San Ant­o­nio his­tory at 26.

It wasn’t long be­fore Joa­quin fol­lowed suit—but on a dif­fer­ent track. Both broth­ers had been hired out of Har­vard by the white-shoe law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Ju­lián’s City Coun­cil gig was not a full-time job), but neither had learned to love cor­por­ate law, to say the least. Years earli­er, loc­al act­iv­ists had tried un­suc­cess­fully to draft Rosie in­to chal­len­ging a Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent in the state House—a long­time pol who, ac­cord­ing to Rosie, had de­veloped a do-noth­ing repu­ta­tion. Now Joa­quin de­cided to take him on. Though he says he “ag­on­ized” over abandon­ing his six-fig­ure salary, he rel­ished the idea of go­ing to Aus­tin to work on “big-tick­et is­sues” such as high­er edu­ca­tion and health care. He also wanted to es­cape his broth­er’s shad­ow and strike out, at least some­what, on his own. “He was now on coun­cil,” Joa­quin says, “and I wanted to do something dif­fer­ent.”

With Rosie and Ju­lián help­ing to run his cam­paign, Joa­quin dis­patched the Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent eas­ily, win­ning the primary with 64 per­cent of the vote. In the gen­er­al elec­tion, he held off a Re­pub­lic­an who’d been gen­er­ously fun­ded by some of the biggest Anglo donors in the state. The Castro fam­ily cel­eb­rated an­oth­er vic­tory, but Joa­quin’s tim­ing could hardly have been worse; 2002 was also the year when Re­pub­lic­ans won their first ma­jor­ity in the Texas House since Re­con­struc­tion. “I came in,” Joa­quin says, “when it all went to shit.” So much for push­ing “big-tick­et” ideas. That would be­come his broth­er’s forte in­stead. But not un­til Ju­lián had ex­per­i­enced, at the tender age of 30, his first ma­jor polit­ic­al set­back.

 

JU-LI-ÁN! JU-LI-ÁN! Ju-li-án!” The chant rose up in the San Ant­o­nio City Coun­cil’s cham­bers on April 4, 2002. The coun­cil was vot­ing that even­ing on $52 mil­lion worth of spe­cial tax breaks for the de­velopers of a new golf re­sort and up­scale-hous­ing pro­ject called PGA Vil­lage. Com­pet­ing fac­tions had filled the cham­ber seats, wear­ing stick­ers that said “PGA No!” or “PGA Yes!” A few months earli­er, Ju­lián had quit his job at Akin Gump. (The firm’s law­yers had draf­ted the de­velopers’ con­tract.) It was the highest-pro­file is­sue of his early days in of­fice, and he was hell-bent on mak­ing the most of it. Ju­lián seized the spot­light at the hear­ing, sharply in­ter­rog­at­ing the de­velopers’ rep­res­ent­at­ives over their claims about the pro­ject’s en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact (low, they said) and eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial for the city (sky high, of course). The “PGA No!” crowd ate it up, but Ju­lián’s per­form­ance went for naught: Only one of the 10 oth­er coun­cil mem­bers voted with him to block the deal.

The loss did noth­ing to dim Ju­lián’s en­thu­si­asm for city gov­ern­ment. Des­pite the mea­ger pay—$20 a meet­ing—he rel­ished the non­par­tis­an world of coun­cil polit­ics. He didn’t mind that con­stitu­ents would call at all hours to com­plain about bark­ing dogs or their neigh­bors’ un­kempt lawns. He was happy to at­tend your neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation meet­ing next Wed­nes­day at 7 p.m. He even lent a pa­tient ear to the cast of gad­flies who reg­u­larly came to coun­cil meet­ings to air their griev­ances for the al­lot­ted three minutes each. Jaime Castillo, a San Ant­o­nio Ex­press-News colum­nist who would later be­come Ju­lián’s deputy chief of staff, took no­tice of the po­lite at­ten­tion the young coun­cil mem­ber gave the com­plain­ers. His at­ti­tude, ac­cord­ing to Castillo, was: “These people are here to speak to the body. By God, they’re go­ing to get their three minutes, and I’m go­ing to listen.”

But Ju­lián couldn’t serve on the coun­cil forever. At the time, San Ant­o­nio had among the strict­est term lim­its in the coun­try; coun­cil mem­bers couldn’t serve more than two two-year stints. (The rules have since been loosened.) In 2004, with the ex­pir­a­tion of his second term loom­ing, Ju­lián de­cided to run for may­or.

Ju­lián Castro was known to San Ant­o­nio voters, if he was known at all, for three things: his youth, his fam­ily, and his loud op­pos­i­tion to PGA Vil­lage. All three would be used against him in what be­came a bruis­ing cam­paign—one that would ul­ti­mately lead him to dra­mat­ic­ally re­in­vent his polit­ic­al iden­tity.

His chief op­pon­ent, a re­tired ap­pel­late judge named Phil Hard­ber­ger, was backed by the city’s busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment, which was highly sus­pi­cious of the young Castro. After two coun­cil mem­bers were ar­res­ted on bribery charges, Hard­ber­ger used it to turn Ju­lián’s in­ex­per­i­ence against him; the coun­cil, he ar­gued, needed a wiser old head to clean up the mess. Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign also man­aged to drum up the closest thing to a polit­ic­al scan­dal in the Castro broth­ers’ ca­reer—an af­fair dubbed “Twingate” in the loc­al press. In April 2005, it seems, with the may­or­al cam­paign in full swing, Ju­lián and Joa­quin were both sched­uled to ride and wave atop the city coun­cil barge in the an­nu­al River Parade. At the last minute, though, Ju­lián says he de­cided to at­tend a neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation meet­ing in­stead. Whatever the reas­on, Joa­quin ended up rid­ing on the barge alone. Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign man­aged to turn the in­cid­ent in­to a story of de­cep­tion and polit­ic­al cun­ning, ac­cus­ing the Castros of pulling a fast one on the den­iz­ens of San Ant­o­nio by swap­ping one broth­er for an­oth­er in the parade.

Wheth­er or not Twingate doomed him, Ju­lián lost. The de­feat hit him hard—the first time in his life that he’d truly tasted fail­ure. “Elec­tions are so de­term­in­at­ive in that way,” he says. “There is no, ‘You wanted an A+ but you got an A,’ or ‘You wanted 100 per­cent but you got a 93.’ The people either ac­cep­ted or re­jec­ted you.” But this re­jec­tion would be­come a ma­jor turn­ing point in the story of the Castro broth­ers.

A few months later, around the time of the broth­ers’ 31st birth­days, Joa­quin dropped by Ju­lián’s house with a present. This wasn’t typ­ic­al: As close as they are, the Castro broth­ers are far from ex­press­ive. They only oc­ca­sion­ally ex­change birth­day gifts, they’ve nev­er been big on “I love you’s,” and Ju­lián told me that he could re­mem­ber hug­ging his broth­er only five or six times in their 40 years. Joa­quin’s gift was a small volume titled How to Be Pres­id­ent. Part spoof, part dummy’s-guide-to, the book pur­por­ted to an­swer the fun­da­ment­al ques­tions about life as com­mand­er in chief: Where’s the bath­room? When do you get to fly on Air Force One? How do you or­der pizza de­liv­ery to the Oval Of­fice?

Joa­quin meant it partly as a joke, he says—not a pre­dic­tion that his broth­er would ac­tu­ally end up in the White House. At the same time, there was a mes­sage in the gift, which Ju­lián says he un­der­stood as: “I still think you can do whatever you want.”

The broth­ers, char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally enough, were already work­ing on that. Not long after the elec­tion, Chris­ti­an Arch­er, who’d run Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign, spot­ted the Castros eat­ing lunch at their fa­vor­ite Mex­ic­an res­taur­ant, Ros­ar­io’s. He hadn’t seen them since Ju­lián lost, and he tried to make him­self in­con­spicu­ous in hopes of avoid­ing them. They spot­ted him any­way. “I give them a pleas­ant wave,” Arch­er re­calls, “and Ju­lián jumps up and runs over and grabs me and says, ‘Would you mind hav­ing lunch with Joa­quin and I?’”

The three men sat and talked for two hours. The Castros wer­en’t bit­ter; they were curi­ous. What did we do wrong? they wanted to know. How did you choose this mes­sage, that line of at­tack? “I came away from that with the ut­most re­spect,” Arch­er says. “That took some real nerve and mox­ie to say, ‘Help us un­der­stand this.’”

Ju­lián was con­vinced he couldn’t mount a suc­cess­ful comeback if the busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment con­tin­ued to dis­trust him. For the next four years, when he wasn’t work­ing per­son­al-in­jury cases for the new Law Of­fices of Ju­lián Castro—Joa­quin joined the firm, of course—he worked on chan­ging that im­age com­pletely. Ju­lián broke bread reg­u­larly with busi­ness lead­ers, and, when the time came for his next shot at the may­or’s of­fice, he hired Arch­er and the rest of Hard­ber­ger’s ‘05 team to run his cam­paign. (Be­cause of term lim­its, Hard­ber­ger couldn’t run again.) Ju­lián ran as an ally of the real-es­tate de­velopers and bankers and tech en­tre­pren­eurs, and a cham­pi­on of pub­lic-private part­ner­ships as the way to im­prove the schools and at­tract new jobs. And he cruised to vic­tory, win­ning 56 per­cent of the vote in a five-can­did­ate race. One year later, when The New York Times Magazine pro­filed Ju­lián as the fu­ture Barack Obama—the Latino who’d break Amer­ica’s next ra­cial bar­ri­er to the pres­id­ency—it dubbed him the “Post-His­pan­ic His­pan­ic Politi­cian.” Ju­lián bristled a little at the monik­er, but even so: mis­sion ac­com­plished.

May­or Castro gov­erned as he’d cam­paigned. He opened a pub­lic-private col­lege-prep cen­ter called Café Col­lege, and a sim­il­ar site for as­pir­ing en­tre­pren­eurs. He em­braced the use of tax abate­ments to lure large em­ploy­ers to the city. He led a pub­lic-private cru­sade to re­vital­ize San Ant­o­nio’s urb­an core. And when he em­barked on his most am­bi­tious ef­fort, a city­wide ex­pan­sion of pre­kinder­garten edu­ca­tion called “Pre-K for SA,” he per­suaded the two biggest CEOs in San Ant­o­nio—Charles Butt, founder of the HEB gro­cery chain, and Joe Robles, head of the U.S. Auto­mobile As­so­ci­ation—to spear­head the cam­paign to pass a $30 mil­lion sales-tax in­crease to get it rolling.

By the time the voters em­braced Pre-K for SA in Novem­ber 2012, the Castro broth­ers had two feet in Wash­ing­ton. Joa­quin had found his tick­et out of the sad minor­ity in the Texas House, win­ning his first con­gres­sion­al elec­tion—only to join an­oth­er new Demo­crat­ic minor­ity in the U.S. House. Ju­lián had de­livered his Demo­crat­ic Con­ven­tion key­note that sum­mer, lead­ing to all kinds of buzz and in­ter­view re­quests. Shortly after the elec­tion, Obama and seni­or ad­viser Valer­ie Jar­rett met with Ju­lián to gauge his in­terest in join­ing the Cab­in­et; they didn’t spe­cify which de­part­ment, but it was clearly Trans­port­a­tion, which didn’t ap­peal to him. He said no, but the idea of tak­ing a post in D.C. had been planted.

 

THIS PAST SPRING, Pres­id­ent Obama and May­or Castro were fea­tured speak­ers at the LBJ Pres­id­en­tial Lib­rary’s 50th an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion in Aus­tin. Back­stage, Ju­lián re­calls, the pres­id­ent sidled up to him. “He said, ‘I’ve been mean­ing to give you a call. Let’s talk soon.’ Prob­ably a week later, he called, and we had [a] con­ver­sa­tion about pos­sibly join­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion.” This time, the of­fer was to run HUD—a de­part­ment closer to Ju­lián’s heart, giv­en his urb­an-de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in San Ant­o­nio. The broth­ers also un­der­stood per­fectly well that there was no chance that the may­or of San Ant­o­nio would be tapped as vice pres­id­ent. But a young Latino Cab­in­et mem­ber with Clin­ton-style mod­er­ate polit­ics and a ton of great press? Maybe.

It wasn’t an auto­mat­ic call, though. Leav­ing Texas would take Ju­lián off the path to the gov­ernor’s of­fice that so many ex­pec­ted him to fol­low when his fourth two-year term as may­or (that was now the term lim­it) ended in 2017. The tim­ing had once soun­ded plaus­ible. Polit­ic­al pun­dits and op­tim­ist­ic Demo­crats had long ex­pec­ted fa­vor­able demo­graph­ic trends—a whole lot of young people of col­or be­com­ing voters, that is—to make statewide elec­tions win­nable by then, es­pe­cially for the right can­did­ate. (And if there were ever a “right” Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate, most agreed, it was Ju­lián Castro.) But with the much-hyped gubernat­ori­al bid of state Sen. Wendy Dav­is headed to­ward a his­tor­ic rout—she lost by more than 20 per­cent­age points—the re­viv­al of Texas Demo­crats had be­gun to look like a far more dis­tant pro­spect.

When Ju­lián asked Rosie what she thought about Obama’s HUD of­fer, she said, “This is the second time he asks you. He’s not gonna ask you again. But is this something you want to do?” He wasn’t sure. Some ad­visers thought HUD was a dead-end job. Oth­ers poin­ted out that Ju­lián would be join­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing its lame-duck phase—not the op­tim­al time for launch­ing am­bi­tious pro­jects that could boost his na­tion­al pro­file. It would be, said Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune, “like John Stamos join­ing ER in the 13th sea­son—show’s over, man.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). Flickr/Texas Public Radio.

Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). Flickr/Texas Public Radio.

When he took the job any­way, it was a sure sign that the Castro broth­ers had de­cided that Texas wouldn’t be com­pet­it­ive for Demo­crats any­time soon. It also ap­peared to be a bet that Ju­lián’s pres­ence in Wash­ing­ton, and his new role, would make him more ap­peal­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton if she be­came the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee.

Still, the broth­ers know that vice pres­id­ent is a long shot—es­pe­cially be­cause, they in­sist, the ru­mors about their cozy links to Bill and Hil­lary are pat­ently ab­surd. Their re­la­tion­ship with the Clin­tons is friendly, they say, but far from in­tim­ate. Ju­lián’s only in­ter­ac­tion with Pres­id­ent Clin­ton dur­ing his White House in­tern­ship was a photo ses­sion. The broth­ers en­dorsed Hil­lary over Obama in 2008—at the be­hest, they say, of old Clin­ton pal José Vil­lar­real, a fam­ily friend and the part­ner who’d hired the twins at Akin Gump. Bill Clin­ton al­ways re­mem­bers the Castros’ en­dorse­ment and thanks them when he sees them, Ju­lián says, but that’s only been on “a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions.” The broth­ers have in­tro­duced the former pres­id­ent at fun­draisers in Cali­for­nia and Texas, Ju­lián notes, and “I’ve spoken with Hil­lary Clin­ton twice”—once at an event at the Uni­versity of South­ern Cali­for­nia in 2013, and once at a 2014 be­ne­fit for the Bronx Chil­dren’s Mu­seum, which Justice So­nia So­to­may­or in­vited them to. Last Au­gust, Ju­lián dined with Bill Clin­ton at the couple’s home in Wash­ing­ton. “A lot of people try and brag about long, close re­la­tion­ships with the Clin­tons,” Ju­lián says. “We don’t have a long, close re­la­tion­ship.” But, he adds, “I think we’re on the same page about a lot of stuff.”

While Ju­lián thinks na­tion­ally, his broth­er’s mind keeps drift­ing back to Texas. In Decem­ber, Joa­quin Castro and I sat at the top of the 750-foot-high Tower of the Amer­icas, gaz­ing out on San Ant­o­nio, chat­ting about the broth­ers’ past and pos­sible fu­tures, Texas polit­ics, and the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race. (Joa­quin ranks Mike Hucka­bee as the most nat­ur­al politi­cian of the po­ten­tial GOP field, say­ing he could “walk away” with the nom­in­a­tion “if he wasn’t so odd.”) The con­gress­man, fresh off an easy reelec­tion, poin­ted out some not­able spots: the broth­ers’ old neigh­bor­hood, the spire at Our Lady of the Lake Uni­versity on the west side, the place nearby where Woody Har­rel­son’s fath­er killed a fed­er­al judge by the name of “Max­im­um John” Wood Jr. Over soup, salad, and iced tea—both broth­ers’ drink of choice—Joa­quin talked en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally about his new pro­ject to re­sus­cit­ate Texas Demo­crats.

“I’m al­ways think­ing about polit­ics,” he says. “What is go­ing on here? What’s miss­ing here?” In Texas, what’s miss­ing is pretty ob­vi­ous on one level: Demo­crat­ic voters. Des­pite the ad­vent of Battle­ground Texas, a well-fun­ded ef­fort led by former Obama cam­paign brass de­signed to re­gister and turn out new voters, Joa­quin says there’s only one way to view the 2014 elec­tion: “We got our ass kicked.” The party’s situ­ation just keeps grow­ing more dire, he says; between 2008 and 2012, Re­pub­lic­ans went from oc­cupy­ing 2,400 loc­al elec­ted of­fices in Texas to own­ing 3,400. “We nev­er learned how to come back,” he says. “We still haven’t figured out the for­mula in Texas.”

Joa­quin doesn’t want to sup­plant Battle­ground Texas, he ex­plains, but to com­ple­ment it with some well-fun­ded, year-round hard­ball polit­ics. The Le­gis­lature meets every two years for 140 days, and every ses­sion Re­pub­lic­ans cut more deeply in­to fund­ing for so­cial ser­vices, he says—yet they’re nev­er held ac­count­able for it, come elec­tion time. “For ex­ample, a few years ago they wanted to cut fund­ing for nurs­ing homes,” he says. “I mean, that’s per­fect! You could run that on the ra­dio all day. You need to sear it in people’s brains, so the next time they go, ‘Hey, I re­mem­ber—these are the guys who wanted to cut your nurs­ing-home fund­ing!’”

An­oth­er key, he ar­gues, is ex­pand­ing the usu­al tar­gets for a polit­ic­al party. “What cam­paigns do is, they tar­get likely voters, con­sist­ent voters, right?” he says. “You need an or­gan­iz­a­tion that com­pletely flips the script. I don’t want to talk to likely voters; I want to talk to people that are com­pletely, or al­most com­pletely, dis­en­gaged.”

His road map for Texas Demo­crats is still in the early stages, but if he had to put a price tag on it, he’d es­tim­ate up­wards of $50 mil­lion. Joa­quin had meet­ings sched­uled in Janu­ary with po­ten­tial donors in hopes of get­ting things rolling. (He would not say who those fun­ders might be.) When I ask how he’s plan­ning to run a Demo­crat­ic-re­new­al pro­ject in Texas while work­ing 12-hour days in Con­gress, rais­ing his young daugh­ter, and coman­aging his broth­er’s polit­ic­al fu­ture, he ad­mits that he some­times thinks fondly about leav­ing his minor­ity caucus in Con­gress. “Some of the things I want to do and be in­volved with in bring­ing Texas along, it would be easi­er not to be an elec­ted of­fi­cial,” he says. “Spe­cific­ally, not to be a con­gress­man.”

He knows, of course, that noth­ing would be­ne­fit his Texas pro­ject like a broth­er on the na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic tick­et; that would make rais­ing $50 mil­lion a snap. “If he as­cends, that helps me too,” Joa­quin says. It works both ways, of course: If Joa­quin makes any not­able head­way with his Texas pro­ject over the next year and a half, the pro­spect of put­ting a Tex­an on the Demo­crat­ic bal­lot would make more stra­tegic sense for the party’s pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee.

While the broth­ers still har­bor blue-sky am­bi­tions, they’re also real­ists. They know that in the likely event Ju­lián doesn’t get the VP nod, their polit­ic­al path for­ward sud­denly van­ishes, at least un­less Texas someday be­comes com­pet­it­ive again. “Sure, I’ve thought about it,” Ju­lián says of hav­ing nowhere to go when his HUD ap­point­ment ex­pires. “It’s very pos­sible. I’ve thought about go­ing back to Texas and writ­ing, and per­haps prac­ti­cing law.” He’s also open, he says, to “stick­ing around some­where in the Cab­in­et” if Clin­ton, or an­oth­er Demo­crat, be­comes the next pres­id­ent. “Most days, I’m ex­cited about pub­lic ser­vice, but there’s some days, like in any pro­fes­sion—there’s the down days when I think about just go­ing back home and hav­ing more free­dom, you know? So we’ll see what hap­pens. The good thing is, I’m gonna be 42 when that day comes. Still a lot of time left.”

But there is also a sense of ur­gency to the broth­ers’ polit­ic­al plans. When we met for lunch in Decem­ber at one of his fa­vor­ite Mex­ic­an res­taur­ants in San Ant­o­nio, Ju­lián said he felt in­creas­ingly op­tim­ist­ic that he made the right move in go­ing to Wash­ing­ton. “Joa­quin and I were talk­ing a couple of months ago,” he said, “and I told him, ‘I feel like the world is com­ing to­ward us in a pos­it­ive way. More now in our lives than it ever will again.’”