Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs Discusses Building Community

michael tubbs

Michael Tubbs, the mayor of Stockton, Calif., called for Boston College students to become involved with their local governments and to make a beneficial impact on their communities during a lecture on Monday evening. Local administrations, Tubbs said, are desperate for capable and intelligent people who care about the public’s well-being.

Tubbs’s lecture, a part of the Jane Jacobs Lecture series through the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, addressed the challenges that arise when building community within a diverse and largely impoverished population. Using his experiences as a city council member and mayor of his hometown as testimony, Tubbs argued the importance of finding common values within a locality and implementing those values in government.

“Everyday values in our country like opportunity, democracy, fairness, and equality are under attack, and they will continue to be undermined as long as we don’t bring people to know that it’s not about an individual person or party, but that it’s about values,” Tubbs said.

Tubbs originally had no interest in local government. As a 20-year-old Stanford undergraduate interning for the White House, Tubbs’ attention had been focused on escaping the stigma of poverty and failure that surrounded Stockton.

Yet on Nov. 1 of his junior year in college, Tubbs received a call that drastically changed the trajectory of his career.

“On that day my mom called me, and she never used to call me during work days,” he said. “She called me to tell me that one of my cousins was murdered back home in Stockton.”

Upon hearing this, Tubbs made the decision to run for Stockton City Council. Lacking a financial foundation for his campaign, his greatest asset was community outreach. Going from door to door, Tubbs learned what he believes is a very important principle in local politics.

“Those who are closest to the pain and the problem also have a very good understanding of solutions,” he said.

Tubbs’s first political campaign was a success. As a newly elected city council member, he intended to focus on initiatives such as poverty reduction, public safety, and job creation. These initiatives were part of a larger collective impact strategy that the council termed “Reinvent South Stockton.” Historically South Stockton, known for being economically underdeveloped, had been home to the most impoverished of the city’s population.

Shortly after gaining a seat on the council, however, Tubbs learned that the larger initiatives he set forth were difficult to achieve without first having developed a reputation of trustworthiness in the community. The currency of government is trust, and this trust is attainable through direct interaction with members of the community, he said.

As a city council member, Tubbs worked to improve park sanitation, open health clinics, and establish the first bank in Stockton in over 50 years. His policy successes propelled him towards a mayoral campaign in 2015. In 2016, Tubbs won the election with a large majority. At the age of 26, he became the first African American mayor of Stockton as well as the youngest person to ever hold office.

One of Tubbs’s greatest challenges as mayor has been establishing unity in a city that is not only ethnically diverse but also politically divided.

Tubbs said that basic income experiments and protection for immigrant populations, documented and undocumented, have been early focal points of his administration.

“Some 40 percent of my city voted for the current president,” he said. “Forty percent of my city is Latino, 35 percent is white, 20 percent is Asian. Every day we’re negotiating something different and asking ‘what do we value and what do we care about?’”

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff