In Crowded Presidential Field, How Julián Castro Hopes To Stand Out

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Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues, Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues, Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

A conversation with Julián Castro. We hear why the former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary says his slow start in the 2020 presidential race is a good thing.

"My target date is February 3, 2020, when the first people caucus there in Iowa," Castro told On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti. "That's when I want to be really hitting my stride."


Julián Castro, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017 under President Obama. Former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. (@JulianCastro)

Interview Highlights

On the commentary that his campaign is not getting as much coverage as someone like Mayor Pete Buttigieg's

"These campaigns, they have a life cycle right? So we're still, I think, 39 weeks away from the Iowa caucus. That's more than a lifetime in politics. And what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to set the foundation, build the foundation, of a strong campaign that basically is going to get stronger and stronger as we get into the summer, and go through the debates, and into the fall, and all of the organizing and everything else that goes on. My target date is February 3, 2020, when the first people caucus there in Iowa. That's when I want to be really hitting my stride."

On his backstory, "an immigrant's American Dream story"

"I grew up with my grandmother, whose name was Victoria, and my mom. And my grandmother had come over to the country from Mexico when she was 7 years old with her little sister in 1922, because their parents had passed away, and their closest relatives brought them to the west side of San Antonio, Texas. They also pulled her out of school before she ever finished elementary. So she worked as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, and she raised my mom as a single parent. My mom had the opportunity to be the first one to graduate from high school and then go on to college, and she raised us, my brother Joaquin and me, as a single parent after the age of 8 when our parents split up.

"And Joaquin and I went to the public schools of San Antonio, had the opportunity to, of course, graduate from high school, and then go on to Stanford, and go to Harvard Law School. We went together because we're twins and I can't get rid of him, and then came back here and became the first in our family to be professionals. We both became lawyers and then went into public service. And I had the opportunity to serve my community first on the city council in San Antonio and then eventually as mayor."

"Got a call on April 16, 2014 from President Barack Obama — I remember the date because it's not every day that the president calls you and asks you if you want a job."

Julián Castro

On receiving a job offer from President Barack Obama

"Got a call on April 16, 2014 from President Barack Obama — I remember the date because it's not every day that the president calls you and asks you if you want a job. I had just gone through the drive-thru at Panda Express, and on your phone, sometimes it says 'unknown' or 'blocked call' — it said 'private.' So to all of the listeners out there, if you ever get a call that says 'private,' answer your phone.

"I did answer, and then I served as secretary of HUD for the last 2 1/2 years of the administration. I started when I was 39 as a cabinet secretary, and so I feel like I have lived an experience in my life where I can relate to families that struggle, and are scraping by and scrounging. That was my life growing up with my mom who was raising us as a single parent, going to the public schools, taking the bus for our transportation, what a lot of people do out there. And then, also, I can relate to people who feel like they've made it and reach their dreams, because I feel like I've reached mine."

On what distinguishes him from the other Democratic candidates for 2020

"Here's what I think people are looking for and what altogether distinguishes me. No. 1, I think people want somebody that has the right experience to be president. Secondly, they're looking for a strong vision, a strong plan for the future of the country. They want to know, 'OK, if you're out there on Day 1 sitting in the Oval Office, where are you going to help take this country?' And then, three, they want a winner. They know that it's time in 2020 to replace this president. And we need to beat Donald Trump.

"I'm one of the few folks in this race that has strong executive experience. I have a track record of getting things done as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I managed a budget of $48 billion, 8,000 employees with 54 different field offices across the country, and had the chance to visit 100 different communities in 39 states during that time and to get a sense of how communities are grappling with everything from housing, to job opportunities, to infrastructure, to quality of life. I have a strong vision for the future of the country that's a positive one, to be the smartest, the healthiest, the fairest and the most prosperous nation on earth. And what I've done is articulated a blueprint a plan for how we get there.

"And then I can beat Donald Trump. I can win. We lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by less than 80,000 votes last time. I'm confident that I can go back and get those votes. And, I believe that I'm the only candidate that can also offer a second path, which is to win the 11 electoral votes of Arizona, the 29 electoral votes of Florida and the 38 electoral votes of my home state of Texas."

On his People First Education plan

"What I see out there is that the United States right now is falling further and further behind other nations in terms of making sure that our children are well-educated and have the knowledge and the skills that they need to succeed in the 21st century global economy. And I want to make sure that Washington is a strong partner with states and local school districts so that we can ensure that every single child is well-educated.

"My People First Education plan includes universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, because the research is very clear that if you have a dollar to spend in education, it's best spent early on with high-quality pre-K so that kids can get off to a strong start. It includes investing more to improve K through 12 education, because that's so critical to make sure that a student can be in a classroom that's not overcrowded, can be in a school that is not crumbling, can have a teacher that is well-compensated and is able to effectively convey knowledge. And because today demands it, it includes, my plan includes, not just pre-K through 12, but pre-K through 16 — college, free, university, community college and job training programs, because a high school diploma just doesn't cut it anymore."

On criticism of his time at HUD, amid allegations that the federal government exacerbated the affordable housing crisis with its Distressed Asset Stabilization Program (DASP)

"I always found that an odd criticism because I was actually the one that came into HUD and began to make massive improvements to that program. Almost as soon as I got in, the number of those home sales went down dramatically, and we started reforming the process. And I had a chance to to talk to some of the folks. That coalition started falling apart of progressive groups — Color of Change, for instance, backed out of it because they no longer supported what those groups were saying. So ultimately, we made a lot of the improvements that folks wanted, and that was a program that I inherited and that I improved."

Editor's note: Castro has claimed that beginning in mid-2015, he ordered some changes to be made to DASP so that community based nonprofits could purchase more of the distressed homes/loans.

However, HUD’s own numbers show that in 2015, a half-dozen private equity firms purchased more than 97% of the HUD loans for sale, and at roughly 50% of the principal balance of the loans (meaning at a 50% discount). Community nonprofits purchased approximately 3%.

"Later in 2016, for instance, we made it easier for community-based organizations, nonprofits, or cities, or similar jurisdictions, to actually be a part of buying those homes. In other words, if the person was not able to stay in that home, instead of them going to Wall Street investors, that they would go to a community nonprofit or to a city or to a land trust. That was the the emphasis that under my leadership we put on it to try and improve things. And that was directly in response to to folks who have been concerned about this program.

Editor's note, continued: Under pressure from both community activists, and from Congressional inquiries (the House Oversight Committee), Castro instituted more changes to the program in the middle of 2016.

However, in one round of purchasing soon after the changes, private investors were still able to purchase 78% of the loans, community investors purchased 2%.

Another round of purchasing in 2017 yielded similar results. Overall, the program’s sales went overwhelmingly to private investment firms before and after Castro’s reforms.

"So if somebody is out there and they wonder, 'Well, you know are you gonna be somebody that actually listens to the concerns when we bring them up?' Yeah, I showed that. As soon as I got there, we started making improvements. Now, did we get the program within those 2 1/2 years to where I would have wanted it if I had been there at the beginning to structure it? No, I didn't. But it's a clear example of being responsive and understanding how we can do things better and then actually implementing them."

From The Reading List

Here & Now: "Julián Castro On His 2020 Presidential Platform And Living The 'Immigrant American Dream' " — "Democratic candidates in the 2020 presidential election are already crisscrossing the country, trying to gain traction ahead of next year's primaries.

"One of them is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Obama, who's hoping to be the first Latino president of the United States. Castro says on Day One in office, his first step would be signing an executive order recommitting the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement.

"'And the first major piece of legislation that my administration would submit to Congress is on universal health insurance. So those are two things that I would focus on right away,' Castro tells Here & Now's Robin Young."

"Castro's grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico as a 7-year-old orphan. She worked as a maid, cook and babysitter while raising Castro's mother Marie as a single parent. Marie was a political activist, and both of her sons went on to careers in politics — Castro's brother Joaquin has represented Texas' 20th Congressional District since 2013."

PBS NewsHour: "Julián Castro on what Democrats need to beat Trump in 2020" — "Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has tried to set himself apart from the crowded 2020 field with an early immigration proposal and appeals to the House of Representatives to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Castro talked with Amna Nawaz in Iowa about his plan to compete in the crowded primary field and how Democrats can beat Trump in 2020."

Texas Tribune: "With 10 months until Iowa, Castro sees "lower expectations" for him as an advantage" — "On the surface, the only hitch in Democratic candidate Julián Castro's most recent trip to the first-in-the-nation Democratic caucus state was a snowstorm that mucked up his travel schedule.

"Once he arrived here Sunday for a two-day swing, Iowa Democrats treated him to all the trappings of a serious presidential contender: He was a guest on a podcast taped before a standing-room-only crowd at the University of Iowa campus, he made the rounds of the state capital and his schedule was packed with events.

"Yet there was an underlying problem that emerged during the trip, one having nothing to do with school tours and meet-and-greets. On Monday, it became clear that Castro had come in dead last in fundraising for the first quarter among the 15 or so candidates he is hoping to appear alongside on the first debate stage in June.

"While it's natural for a candidate to downplay bad news, Castro emphasized a silver lining."

KUT: "Julián Castro Calls His Slow Start In The Presidential Race A Good Thing" — "'I don’t want to be a flash-in-a-pan candidate or someone who is hot for a month,' Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro said during a stop in Austin on Wednesday.

"The former HUD Secretary and mayor of San Antonio was in town for a small fundraiser at Native Hostel in East Austin.

"Castro, who is one of more than 20 major Democratic candidates vying for the party's nomination in 2020, has so far been lagging in the polls. But, he said, he’s been slowly gaining support, which he thinks may be a strength in the long run.

"The first nominating contest in Iowa is about 40 weeks away, which is something Castro reminded supporters of during the event. He also said he thinks he could gain more support during the debates, which he qualified for."

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

This article was originally published on May 13, 2019.

This program aired on May 13, 2019.

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