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Friday, December 9, 2016

SAN ANTONIO — Julian Castro is a politician in not too much of a hurry. This does not mean he lacks ambition.

The 38-year-old mayor of San Antonio, which has boomed into the country’s seventh-largest city, came to national attention much as Barack Obama did, with a first-rate keynote speech at last year’s Democratic National Convention. He spoke affectingly of life being not a marathon but a “relay” in which each generation lifts up the next.

His metaphor didn’t have the instant punch of Obama’s 2004 red-and-blue America oration, but it does have staying power, just fine for a man playing the long game.

He is looking toward easy re-election in May to his third two-year term, and you can expect him to resist entreaties to run for governor in 2014. Demographic change is not likely to turn red Texas purple until the last part of this decade. “No question it will be more hospitable” to a Democrat, Castro says with a smile.

As it happens, he hits the city’s mayoral term limit in 2017, nice timing for a governor’s race in 2018 or a run against first-term GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Castro rules nothing in or out, but he’s not cagey. He sees a way up, and many Democrats hope he’ll take it.

And his “relay” metaphor was more than a rhetorical device. It describes his political life, and that of his twin brother Joaquin, a member of Congress.

What makes Mayor Castro especially interesting is the interaction of his own pragmatism with the early radicalism of his mother Rosie, his first political mentor. She was a founder of La Raza Unida Party — she eventually returned to the Democratic fold — and a poster from his mom’s unsuccessful 1971 city council race hangs proudly in the mayor’s office.

Between his mother’s past and his own present, Castro embodies the full range of progressive impulses, from the most activist and visionary to the most practical and middle of the road. Castro says in an interview that it’s not surprising that his approach is different from his mom’s.

“I had the blessing of opportunity,” he says. As a result, he sees a balance in what is required to achieve change. “You need the folks in the boardroom who have consciences and the people in the streets who can picket at the right time.”

Then he gets to his own role: “And you need public officials who can listen. I see myself as a bridge-builder who can understand both sides.”

His goals for San Antonio certainly square with the objectives of any Chamber of Commerce member: “to create a brainpower community that is the liveliest city in the United States.” The jobs he wants to attract, Castro says, are “the 21st-century jobs in information technology and security, new energy, aerospace.”