Will Julian Castro Suffer the HUD Curse?
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The Fiscal Times
August 15, 2014

Even before he has been sworn in as President Obama’s new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is being touted as a possible running mate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The Washington Post  published a front page story on Friday highlighting the prospects of Castro, 39, a high-profile Hispanic politician who delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The Post reported that Hillary and Bill Clinton have been aggressively “cultivating” Castro, and invited him to their home in Washington last week for a private dinner.

Related: Rising Star Julian Castro to Join Obama Cabinet

But Castro should beware: For decades, the job of HUD secretary  has proved to be a political graveyard or improbable launching pad for higher office.

Here are five examples of the HUD political jinx:

  • George W. Romney, a former Republican Michigan governor and auto executive, became Richard Nixon’s HUD Secretary in January 1969 as a consolation prize after he stumbled badly in his own drive for the White House. Romney was an early favorite for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination, but he pulled out after revealing in an August 1967 interview that his earlier support for the Vietnam War was due to “brainwashing” by U.S military and diplomatic officials when he toured  Vietnam in November 1965.

Related: Obama Rallies Hispanics with Julian Castro Keynote

  • Patricia Roberts Harris served as Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s HUD secretary beginning in January 1977, which made her the first African American woman to serve in the Cabinet. But her prominence on the national scene wasn’t enough to win the hearts of Washington, D.C., voters.  Harris ran and lost to incumbent Mayor Marion Barry in the 1982 Democratic primary election.
  • Samuel R. Pierce Jr., a one-time assistant U.S attorney in New York and prominent Republican black businessman,   was picked by President Reagan to head HUD beginning in 1981. Pierce was so obscure that Reagan mistook him for one of the mayors on the dais  at a  U.S. Conference of Mayors luncheon, famously saying “Hello, Mr. Mayor.” After leaving the administration,  Pierce was investigated by the   Office of Independent Counsel  over allegations of mismanagement, abuse and political favoritism during his tenure. While others were convicted of wrongdoing, Pierce was never  charged.
  • Jack F. Kemp, the one-time Buffalo Bills star quarterback and Republican House member, served as Republican President George H.W. Bush’s HUD secretary from February 1989 to January 1993.  The energetic champion of supply-side economics saw his national political ambitions dashed  after he ran as Republican senator Bob Dole’s vice presidential running mate in 1996. Dole was crushed in that election by President Bill Clinton.

Related: HUD Funding Reveals Million Dollar Wasteland

  • Henry Cisneros, the one-time mayor of San Antonio, Tex., served as secretary of HUD in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997.Cisneros was credited with launching the revitalization of housing developments and was frequently mentioned as a likely candidate for higher office.

In March 1995, an Independent Counsel was appointed to investigate allegations that Cisneros lied to the FBI during background investigations prior to being appointed secretary. Later, after leaving office, Cisnero pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of having lied to the FBI about money he had paid to a mistress before joining the Clinton administration. He subsequently paid a $10,000 fine.

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.