Momma I Made It: Mayor Michael Tubbs
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Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs talks Tupac and his MLK-inspired basic income program.
President Tubbs? You heard it here first! But for now, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs is one of the youngest mayors of a city with a population of more than 100,000 (although it is more like ~310,000). He was elected two years ago at the age of 26. YR Media’s Nyge Turner drove to Stockton, California to chat up the mayor about success, Tupac, and his city’s basic income program.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 4 – Pro ISH).
Nyge: I want to start off with my boy Tupac. I read that your favorite poem is A Rose That Grew From Concrete?
Michael: Oh my gosh, I love that poem, I think half the city can recite it by now. Right now in Stockton, to grow it’s like growing a rose from concrete. I think as someone who grew up on the other side of the tracks, whose mom had me young, who grew up in poverty, and whose father is still incarcerated, this notion of growing from concrete really stuck with me.
Nyge: For people that don’t know a lot about Stockton, what is something that you think people should know?
Michael: Number one, Stockton is 315,000 people. It is bigger than Newark, New Jersey. It is just as big as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. It’s the 62nd largest city in our nation. It has the second largest port in the state. It has the oldest Sikh temple in North America. It’s incredibly diverse. Dolores Huerta, Maya Angelou, Larry Itliong — all these social justice heroes called Stockton home. This is a city on the rise. We were bankrupt six years ago and we are now the second-most fiscally healthy city in the state.
Nyge: You left Stockton and went to Stanford. You had internships at Google and the Obama White House. Was there an event or a person that brought you back to Stockton?
Michael: Absolutely. When I first left and I would come back, I had this little bit of survivor’s guilt. I mean, Stanford is nice — they got palm trees and froyo. I’m in South Africa, El Salvador, Google, and the White House. A lot of my friends, family members, the people I love were still in Stockton and didn’t have a tenth of the opportunities I was presented. So I was feeling a little bit guilty about that. But when I was interning at the White House, on Halloween one of my cousins, Donell James II, was murdered in Stockton at a house party. So that’s the only reason why I decided to come back. For far too many young people of color, losing someone before [the age of] 21 is a right of passage and no one bats an eye. It’s natural and it shouldn’t be the norm.
Nyge: So early in the year, you announced that you’re going to start this basic income program. What made you wake up one day and just think this is going to fix the city?
Michael: I don’t think a basic income in and of itself will fix this city. I think it’s a powerful tool in the toolbox of other tools. That’s why we’re doing a million things at once and doing them all at 100 miles per hour. The basic income thing I heard about in college. I was reading Dr. King’s book Where Do We Go From Here and I think the direct quote is, “I’m now convinced that the simplest way to abolish poverty is the most direct.” To give cash to every American. Pay at the median national income. So I remember reading that and saying, “Wow that is radical. Let’s look at it.”
Nyge: So after four years on city council, what made you decide you were ready to take this to the next step and become mayor at 26?
Michael: Well honestly, for the last two years of my time on council, I was functioning as the mayor. All the councillors were calling me like, “Hey, I want to get this on the agenda. How do I do it?” All the financial and policy changes came through my committees first. Every time there was an issue, people would call me and I was like, “Well if I’m already doing the job, let me get the job.”
Nyge: If you could give advice to your younger self, what would your advice be?
Michael: Start going to the gym, man. If you don’t like it when you’re younger, when you are older, you definitely won’t like it. When you start at 28, it is not pretty. Number two, I would say save your money, but also start to invest it. Then get your prayer game right. You have no idea what life is going to throw at you.