His story plays out like an Oscar-winning drama. Born to a teenage mother and an incarcerated father, Michael Tubbs grew up in the wilds of Stockton, Calif., one of America’s most dangerous cities, and managed not only to get accepted to Stanford University but to graduate with honors, a Masters in Education, and the prized Dinkelspiel Award. Now, his record of service in college and his lifelong love of public speaking will serve him well as he works tirelessly on his campaign for Stockton City Council.
Since reciting Bible passages in front of his church congregation as a young man, Tubbs has always exhibited a passion for public service and public speaking. While still an undergraduate, he created the non-profit organization Phoenix Scholars as a way to help disadvantaged kids get into college. He also addressed diverse audiences all over northern California, including 6,000 incoming freshman at Stanford’s Founders’ Day, as a motivational speaker.
Tubbs noted that his time abroad in South Africa contributed to his decision to run for city council. In South Africa, he worked with a local nonprofit but felt that he could only do so much since he was just a visitor for a short period of time. After his travels, he came back to the U.S. reinvigorated and ready “to do more.” And of course, the first place he wanted to give back to was the city that gave so much to him.
“Stockton is my home,” the young Democratic candidate said. Although he could have gone anywhere to begin his career in politics and the public service sector, Tubbs chose to return to his hometown. “It’s where I grew up … It was like a calling to [go back].”
Having an intimate relationship with the city gives the 22-year-old a local perspective on the problems of Stockton, and possible solutions to them. His campaign motto is “Reinvent Stockton” — and that’s what he really wants to do.
“Number one, cut the rate of violent crimes ... really changing the culture of violence which is really becoming endemic to the city,” Tubbs said. Within the past year, there have been 43 homicides in Stockton, and the city is on track to match the 50 that occurred last year.
To complicate matters, the city has just declared bankruptcy. This plight is another reason Tubbs feels so strongly about “economic development and job growth.” If elected, he hopes to streamline the process so it’s easier for “entrepreneurs to come [to Stockton] and do business.”
Tubbs is truly running a grassroots campaign. He has a small but dedicated staff consisting of a campaign manager, a field manager, and multiple interns. “They knock door-to-door to get the word out.”
Tubbs’ brazen determination and dedication to a city many consider unsalvageable is reminiscent of another Stanford grad who went on to make a big impact on the country despite his youth: Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey. The similarities between Tubbs and Booker may have been one of the key reasons Tubbs was able to accomplish the incredible feat of landing a celebrity endorsement from none other than Oprah Winfrey.
“I really didn’t do anything,” Tubbs said with laugh. “I was at a lunch when someone mentioned to [Oprah Winfrey] that I was running the campaign back in Stockton.”
In the spring of 2012, Winfrey made a surprise appearance to Stanford's campus to visit a group of talented students involved in a production of the musical The Color Purple. Winfrey was intrigued by Tubbs' Stockton campaign and began talking to him about his goals for the city and his plans for the upcoming race. She was so impressed by Tubbs that she publicly endorsed him, making him the third politician to receive the nod of approval from the powerful woman. (The other two lucky policymakers are Mayor Booker and President Barack Obama.)
Since the start of his campaign, Tubbs acknowledges that he’s been lucky to receive a lot of support from both his community and other politicians. Currently, he has support from Congressman Jerry McNerney and School Board President Sara Cazares, among others. Tubbs won the primary on June against incumbent Dale Fritchen, making him a real contender for the election in November. Although the finish line for this race is still months away, Tubbs is working nonstop to earn the title of Councilman.
Looking ahead, Tubbs hopes to “still be in Stockton” working with the government to remake his beloved hometown. Still, even he has a hard time predicting what will happen to him next. One thing is certain: he will continue to make an impact through his service no matter where he is.