WOAI.COM -- Whatever you think of his politics, Julian Castro's speech at the Democratic National Convention put San Antonio into the national spotlight -- at least for a moment.
And I'll admit it. I didn't think he had it in him. At least I didn't think he had it in him yet
. At least not what many "experts" were predicting and Democrats were hoping for.
I was standing there talking with Julian Castro in front of the very stage where he was to give the speech of his life that night. But I couldn't help wondering "Is he really up to this?"
The Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina was to be the young San Antonio mayor's make-or-break moment. Pundits were calling it his launchpad into the big-time world of national politics and already comparing him to a young Barack Obama. Even Geraldo Rivera told me he couldn't wait to see Julian, that the buzz about the upcoming speech was "amazing."
But I wasn't sure Julian was ready.
He was just too calm. Or something. It's hard to describe, but talking with him as more cameras gathered around us, it just didn't feel like our mild-mannered mayor could pull off the kind of intense, passionate speech expected on that national stage.
I was thinking back to 2001, when I shot a story with Julian and his brother Joaquin, walking through the streets of San Antonio's West Side. It's where they grew up, learning grass-roots politicking, blockwalking with their mother Rosie, a long-time activist with la Raza Unida.
In 2001 they were 27 and joked that they looked 17. But already there were higher expectations of these "wonder-twins." Julian was a city councilman helping Joaquin in his first run for State Representative.
I remember shooting video of them knocking on doors and thinking they were so polite and persuasive, but almost timid.
I asked "Who's the better politician?" They laughed and Julian answered "Well, that remains to be seen."
Since then I've watched them develop as speakers and it's clear they've come a long way. But they still have to fight that image of looking so young and sometimes soft-spoken.
There was one time over the years when I clearly saw the fiery side of Julian. It was a debate I moderated between Castro and Phil Hardberger as they ran for mayor. Julian showed flashes of Rosie's activist intensity and the oratorical skills of a Harvard-trained lawyer (which he is). Castro lost that race but learned from it. Four years later he was elected mayor.
And the Castros kept improving as politicans and speakers, getting more polished with time.
So on the morning of the big speech in front of that big stage, I asked Julian again. "Who's the better politician?" This time he laughed and said "Joaquin, it's definitely Joaquin." Such a diplomatic answer showed Julian had come far.
But when pressed on whether he would be passionate in his speech that night, he calmly assured me he would. So calmly, in fact, that I didn't think he had it in him. Oops.
I don't know. Maybe he walked into a phone booth, put on a cape, and came out as SuperJulian! Because the guy I saw give a speech that night didn't seem like the same guy I talked with that morning.
That evening I was watching from up in the NBC News Channel box where I would give a live report after the mayor's speech. The crowd was quieting down and clearly hoping for someone to inspire them. The major networks were just starting their prime-time coverage and starting to pay attention.
Then Julian calmly took the podium. And like his pace moving through San Antonio's political world, he picked up steam. The rhythm of the speech built with his confidence. The warm feedback of the crowd helped.
Sometime in there, as he talked about his grandmother, Victoria, he reached another level. You could see the young kid from the West Side growing into the Politician-to-Watch just as so many had predicted and giving San Antonio at least a little more publicity in the process.
The reporter next to me looked over and asked "Is he really 37?" That made it clear. Julian had done it.
Later that night we watched as the Castros chatted with CNN's Piers Morgan and one of his aides told me "Now everybody (in the news media) wants him."
So the big questions now are about what SuperJulian's bright shining moment in the spotlight will mean for him, for San Antonio and for Texas Democrats. And it may mean not much at all. Yet.
I think it's way too early to predict it's going to give San Antonio a leg up on getting more businesses to locate here. Or give Democrats their first shot in years at winning a statewide office.
Or that a mild-mannered young kid from the West Side could be on a path to the White House, as some have been whispering.
But then again, I've been wrong before. So stay tuned.