HUD Secretary and Potential VP Contender Castro Gets High Marks From de Blasio

Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks to reporters at Cooper Union in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 29, 2015.  Photographer: Michael Nagle
Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks to reporters at Cooper Union in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 29, 2015. (Michael Nagle for the New York Observer)

Mayor Bill de Blasio had nothing but praise for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, the Texas politician often named as a top vice presidential contender, at a joint appearance in the Bronx this morning to announce free broadband internet for public housing projects.

“Mr. Secretary, I’m always appreciative of the fact that you understand people’s lives. You understand it for so many reasons, but one of the great reasons is you were a mayor. And you understood what it was like to serve people at the front line,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Mr. Castro has been leading HUD—a department Mr. de Blasio worked in under now-Gov. Andrew Cuomo—for nearly a year. But before that, Mr. Castro was mayor of San Antonio, where he rolled out his own pre-kindergarten program before Mr. de Blasio made universal pre-K the signature issue of his own campaign and mayoralty.

“I say this humbly: what he did on pre-K is one of the reasons for what we did here in New York City on pre-K,” Mr. de Blasio said. “You showed us in San Antonio that we could reach our young people in new ways.”

In his visit today, Mr. Castro was helping to roll out plans to bring high-speed broadband internet to more than 16,000 New Yorkers living in five public housing developments in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx in conjunction with a federal program, ConnectHome, announced this week by President Barack Obama.

While HUD secretary is typically not the highest profile cabinet position, Mr. Castro—young, handsome, and Hispanic, though not fluent in Spanish—has managed to remain a high-profile official, and a name on the short-list of potential vice presidential candidates to run alongside former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nod. As a mayor, Mr. Castro delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention—the same slot then-State Senator Barack Obama filled in 2004. A top advisor of Mr. Castro’s recently jumped aboard Ms. Clinton’s campaign.

So, would Mr. de Blasio—who has made it quite clear he intends to play a role in the presidential race by withholding an endorsement of his friend Ms. Clinton, traveling to early primary states and vowing to hold a debate—like to see a former mayor on the Democratic ticket for veep?

“I’m not gonna get into the politics,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer after today’s press conference. “Let me talk about him and the work he’s doing: I think he’s been a fantastic HUD secretary.”

For not the first time, Mr. de Blasio made reference to the idea that local politicians tend to act a bit more quickly than federal ones.

“He is, one of the nicest things I can say about anyone in public service, he’s anti-bureaucratic.  He’s a get-things-done guy. I think that is in large measure because he was a mayor,” Mr. de Blasio said. “He’s very fast to make decisions and make things move, very responsive, very creative, and I could not be more pleased with the partnership we have with him and HUD.”

Mr. Castro himself has been predictably coy about his political future. During a sit-down with the Observer after delivering a keynote address for the New Museum’s Ideas City conference in late May, he answered questions about his ambitions with the practiced ease of a man accustomed to routinely being asked about and routinely downplaying his chances.

“I’m not holding my breath on it,” he said then. “I’m trying to do an excellent job at HUD, because I believe if you do a great job with what’s in front of you, that’s how you ensure that you have a great future—whatever the future is.”

Mr. de Blasio took the same line about Mr. Castro’s future today.

“I think he’s just a great public servant, and the future of course will take its course,” he said.

HUD Secretary and Potential VP Contender Castro Gets High Marks From de Blasio