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San Antonio Mayor in State of the Union Spotlight

He's come a long way since President Obama told him he thought he was a White House intern. San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro was invited to Tuesday's State of the Union address, and he received a coveted seat near the first lady.

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro delivering a speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on June 23, 2011.

He has been considered a star on the rise in most political circles, and this evening should only add to the up-and-comer status that San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has enjoyed since taking the helm of the state’s second-largest city.

Castro confirmed to the Tribune on Monday that he received a formal invitation to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address, with a coveted seat in first lady Michelle Obama’s box — an area reserved for VIPs and other high-profile citizens.

“It’s a real honor as a mayor and as an American. Who wouldn’t want to get to see the address from the chamber?” Castro said. “My hope is that this is a recognition of the great work that’s happening in San Antonio to create jobs.”

Castro laughed when asked if he thought the invitation meant he had come a long way politically. During a roundtable discussion on green jobs in late 2009, the president told Castro he thought he was an intern after being introduced as mayor.

“He remarked that I looked very young,” Castro, 37, said of that first meeting.

But Castro took a more serious tone when asked about what, if any, political motivations may have been behind the invitation. During last summer’s convention of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in his hometown, Castro delivered a speech in which he bluntly criticized state governments, including the 82nd Texas Legislature under Gov. Rick Perry, for introducing immigration proposals considered by minorities and Democrats to be discriminatory. The Obama administration, however, has increased deportations during his three years in office and alienated many of the Latinos whose vote he sought in 2008.

“It could be [political], but the fact is that the administration has extended many opportunities before this one,” he said. “So I don’t get the sense that it’s all for campaign purposes because I have had the opportunity to be involved before.”

Asked what he thought the invitation meant in light of Perry’s ill-fated five-month bid to replace the president, and the criticism he hurled at the White House on the road, Castro said it had more to do with what Obama has done for cities like his.

“There is a diversity of opinion within Texas. Ours is a big state. There are things that I agree with Governor Perry on and things that I definitely disagree with him on,” he said. “I believe that the administration is fundamentally making the right investment to create opportunity and competitiveness for cities like San Antonio for the 21st century, so I am glad to join the first lady this evening.”

He also downplayed what, if anything, the appearance will do to shore up support for his twin brother, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who is running for a seat in the U.S. House.

“Joaquin seems to be taking care of things on his own well in the 20th Congressional district,” he said.

Castro said he planned to stay in Washington until Wednesday morning and spend Tuesday trying to work on some intergovernmental affairs issues.

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State government Barack Obama Julián Castro