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Social networking on the campaign trail


By Gilbert Garcia

Barack Obama changed the electoral game in 2008 by embracing the power of the Internet, and mayoral hopeful Julián Castro has obviously studied the Obama blueprint.

On Tuesday, March 10, Castro hosted his first-ever "media/blogger summit" at his Broadway campaign headquarters. Seated at a small table with a combination of private bloggers and print reporters, and surrounded by friends and supporters (including his nine-months pregnant wife, Erica, only a day before her due date), Castro took questions for an hour, including some from the summit's 30 online viewers.

Castro, whose Facebook campaign page has nearly 600 members, described the event as "an opportunity to bring the power of social media to bear on a political campaign." He noted that voter turnout in recent SA elections has languished in the 13-17 percent range, and said he hoped "to leverage social media" to bring up voter involvement in local politics.

Castro emphasized the need to maintain present funding levels for essential City services such as police and fire, even with the threat of a budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, and dismissed the possibility of a property-tax hike. He did, however, voice tentative support for City Manager Sheryl Sculley's suggestion of a temporary municipal "hiring chill" to keep costs down.

He advocated that SA follow the example of Oakland and Philadelphia by creating a "green-collar job corps," and lauded the emergence of the city's homeless center, Haven for Hope: "I've visited and toured it three or four times and it's going to be a fantastic service for this city," Castro said.

Additionally, he addressed the city's growing traffic concerns by voicing his support for light-rail and bike lanes, and said San Antonio should use federal-stimulus money to help relieve traffic congestion at 281 and 1604. He also declined to take toll roads off the table for discussion, even while he acknowledged that they're almost universally disliked. He warned that if the city doesn't aggressively move on the traffic issue, "we'll have a Round Rock situation," alluding to the example of businesses avoiding Austin in favor of its suburbs, because of Austin's traffic problems.

Bringing the discussion back to the social-networking theme, Castro said he's observed the disintegration of neighborhood cohesiveness over his lifetime and suggested that social networking has brought some of that interconnectness back to our lives, but without a neighborhood's sense of physical proximity. With that in mind, he talked about looking into an experimental city project that would create a neighborhood social-media network "to use the power of social media to re-link people together."

Afer the Webcast concluded, Castro campaign manager Christian Archer said the campaign hopes to schedule more online summits â?? at least one every couple of weeks â?? between now and the May 9 election.

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