Campus & Community

Harvard Law brothers shoot for political careers in Texas

6 min read

Deep in the heart of Texas, Joaquin and Julian Castro are plotting their political future together, and, like the searing midday sun in the Red River Valley, their plans could spell double-trouble for any cowboy who crosses their path.

The Castro brothers are identical twins, born just one minute apart 25 years ago, and they are returning to their hometown of San Antonio fulltime, following graduation from the Law School (HLS) next week. They return to new homes and new jobs, but the same principles and aspirations they left with – including a dream to one day occupy San Antonio City Hall, and maybe, eventually, the Texas statehouse.

Big dreams are as common as tumbleweeds in the Lone Star State, but that’s no reason to discount the Castro brothers’ potential. They’ve already begun raising money and attracting the attention of a number of politically connected people back home as they begin laying the groundwork for Julian’s race for city council next year.

“We’ve been preparing for the race for about eight months, seriously, and when we get back [to San Antonio] over the summer, we’re going to block-walk, and really begin to do our serious fundraising,” according to Joaquin, who is treasurer for his brother’s campaign. “We held our first fundraiser here in Cambridge, among our law school friends, and raised about $2,000 for the campaign, and we’ll use that for seed money when we get back.”

When they get back to Texas, the Castro brothers will call on the expertise of a trusted adviser – their mother. Rosie Castro has been a grassroots political activist in San Antonio for many years, running for city council herself in 1971, three years before her sons were born. She didn’t win the race, but the twins say their mother’s activism left an indelible impression on both of them as they were growing up.

Building a Political Base

Like many identical twins, the Castro brothers’ lives have run along parallel tracks. They were nearly inseparable as children, and had many of the same friends through high school. It wasn’t until they went away to college, Joaquin explains, that they began branching out with their own sets of friends.

Joaquin and Julian studied political science and communications as undergraduates at Stanford, then returned to San Antonio, spending the next year working at City Hall. “I think that’s where we gained an appreciation for the actual issues that come up in city government, as opposed to the purely political side of it, and that solidified our interest in running for office eventually,” Joaquin explains.

Even the rigors of an HLS education couldn’t dampen the brothers’ spirit, as they returned to San Antonio at least half a dozen times every year, to stay in touch with friends, and to begin building a political base. Now, with Harvard law degrees in their pockets and jobs waiting for them at the prestigious law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld back home (Joaquin will focus on real estate and public finance, while Julian will concentrate on litigation), the Castro twins believe they can become a viable contender in San Antonio’s 2001 city elections.

“I think [law school] has given me a sense of mental organization of ideas more than anything else,” Julian says. “Obviously, legal skills also help in the political world… In San Antonio over the past three years, we’ve had more than one scandal involving legal issues and people at City Hall dropping the ball in terms of city contracts and stuff. So it will actually be an advantage that I’m a lawyer so that I can be vigilant on the counsel side, and make sure things are going well on the administrative side. I don’t think a Harvard law degree will hurt in any respect. I think it will help very much.”

So why is Julian the candidate and Joaquin the treasurer, and not the other way around? That’s easy, according to Joaquin. “I’m a minute younger. That’s how we decided who was going to run,” he jokes. On the more serious side, however, Joaquin says Julian is more political and more extroverted than he is, and will infuse more personality into the campaign.

‘Trying to Inspire People of my Generation’

San Antonio’s District 7 is a 26-square-mile pear-shaped precinct, carved out of the city’s midsection, with a population of about 100,000 people. Most residents are Hispanic. A quarter of them live below the poverty line. It’s the neighborhood where Julian and Joaquin grew up, and it’s the district Julian hopes to represent on the council.

“District 7 is an interesting district because it is very representative of the city,” Julian says. “It has an area on the southern end that’s pretty low income, and an area on the northern end that’s higher income. It has a university presence, with two universities in the area, and it’s a district where the residents take a lot of pride in their neighborhoods, which sets it apart from most of the other districts.”

The city itself, like many others across the country, is suffering from some growing pains, amid a time of self-discovery and economic change. “The first thing I’d like to do [if elected] is transition San Antonio from what I call a ‘smiles-based economy,’ dependent on tourism, to a ‘files-based economy,’ more dependent on knowledge and information and the high-tech sector,” Julian explains.

Ambitious goals, indeed, for a 25-year-old candidate, who, if elected, would become the youngest city councilor in San Antonio history. But the age factor doesn’t bother Julian Castro. He sees it as a plus. “One of the advantages I have as a candidate is to try to inspire people of my generation to get involved. I think that if they see a young person running for office, they might be more apt to actually go out there and pull the lever.”

According to Joaquin’s calculations, only about 6,300 people will have to pull the lever for his brother to win the election next May. That’s not a lot of votes, but they won’t come cheap. The twins are pushing to raise at least $70,000 for the campaign over the next 12 months – a hefty sum for a job that pays just $20 a week.

It’s certainly not the money that’s attracting Julian to city hall – it’s the prospect of helping guide San Antonio into the future. “Our city has as much potential as Harvard has prestige,” he says. The same might be said about the two soon-to-be HLS graduates, whose political futures could soar with a victory at the polls next spring.