Nearly two years after his groundbreaking City Council win in the California central valley city of Stockton, Michael Tubbs is now knee-deep in the business of governing.
Back in 2012, PAC+ endorsed Tubbs as a recent Stanford graduate returning to his hometown because of his vision of “reinventing Stockton” with a series of progressive reforms that addressed the needs of the some 80% people of color who lived there. Like many cities throughout our country, Stockton faces tough challenges. California’s 13th largest city, Stockton was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy and suffering from a record number of homicides when he took office.
In addition to serving on City Council in Stockton, Michael is a full-time high school teacher. In fact, we caught up with him on a break between classes at Langston Hughes Academy where he teaches several college-level courses to eager teens; classes that include Introduction to Political Science and Ethnic Studies.
Aimee Allison: What is your proudest achievement to date?
Michael Tubbs: I successfully led the effort to “ban the box” in Stockton. Employment applications for city jobs no longer require applicants to declare if they have been convicted of a crime - a barrier for the formerly incarcerated to find meaningful employment. I worked with our city’s human resource department and they made this an administrative change. This move signals to the community that we want to reconnect, and that we are committed to the formerly incarcerated getting jobs so they aren’t tempted to go back to a life of crime. It is on the books now.
It sounds like you’re working a lot behind the scenes.
Things are moving really fast. There’s no real training on how to be a council member. I just dug in and started talking to people, learning by doing. People respect initiative. As a leader, I realized that if I do the legwork myself, and propose good solutions, there are many ways to bring change.
What’s happened since Stockton declared bankruptcy in 2012?
I’ve advocated taking a long view for local budgeting. If we think more than four years ahead, our city can survive the boom and bust cycles that are part of the economy. In the past, 20-year projections were based on too narrow of a time frame, namely 2000-2005. Some people thought Stockton should act as a grant maker or a real estate broker. But I believe Stockton is most effective bringing different groups to the table. For example, I’m convening a group to establish a literacy project over the summer that includes the housing authority, the University of the Pacific and the United Way.
You scored a rare endorsement from Oprah. How has that impacted your time in office?
Oprah endorsed me right before the election in October 2012. She tweeted her support and it got an incredible amount of press. We are really appreciative. Most importantly, Oprah’s endorsement led outside people to take look at Stockton and care what happens here.
Do you continue to connect with people outside of Stockton?
Yes, especially local candidates from around the country. They reach out to me asking for support and advice as they run for office. I recently advised Esmerlda Soria, City Council candidate in Fresno, CA; Rashawn Davis City Council candidate in Newark, NJ; and Akeem Cunningham, City Council candidate in East Orange. I give them my time and support them. I vowed that if I ever got elected, I would mentor others.
The new documentary on your campaign called, “True Son,” is coming out in a couple months.
Yes, I just saw an advance copy of the film this weekend. It was humbling. We started in a grassroots way. The film highlights the hope and tenacity of the people in Stockton. It’s also a good litmus test on my campaign promises. I’m proud the film showcases Stockton in a positive light.
Any special message to the PowerPAC+ members who donated to support your campaign?
It’s like planting seeds which bear whole trees full of fruit. PAC+ is investing in what progressive politics will look like in 50 years. It is incredibly important for laying the groundwork. Thank you.