Around 40 students stood in White Plaza for the Stanford Democrats’ final rally before Election Day on Nov. 2. Michael Tubbs ’12, the 22-year-old Democratic candidate for Stockton City Council’s sixth district, was unimpressed.
“I don’t know. … This is a rally, right? A rally?” he said as he jumped onto a platform overlooking the Claw. “This is where I’m supposed to be?”
For the first time all afternoon, the sleeping crowd stood up and began to cheer.
“It wasn’t turned up,” he said after his speech. “I had to turn it up.”
Tubbs has had a bit of practice firing up audiences, having spent the last nine months trying to convince Stockton that he has the passion and dedication to effect positive change in the ailing city.
Named “America’s Most Miserable City” by Forbes last year, Stockton faces unemployment of 17.2 percent and made headlines in June as the nation’s largest city ever to file for bankruptcy. It has suffered more than 60 homicides this year alone.
Addressing Stockton’s issues from a city council seat may seem ambitious, but Tubbs said he thinks the city’s lack of guidance gives him a unique opportunity.
“I think, at this point, people are so clamoring for leadership that they don’t care who it is,” he said. “It’d be interesting to [make change] from a lowly city council seat.”
Tubbs’ opponent is incumbent Republican Dale Fritchen, whom he described as “a good man but a bad leader for Stockton.” Tubbs criticized the incumbent for failing to take a leader’s stand on Stockton’s crime problems.
“His campaign strategy is … defeatist. [Fritchen says,] ‘Stockton is going to be crime-ridden, so lock your doors at night.’ That’s stupid,” Tubbs said. “That’s not leadership.”
Tubbs has convinced some big names that, despite his youth, he’s ready to lead. Back in May, Tubbs made ripples on campus when he received a high-profile endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, which made him only the third politician she has ever endorsed, joining President Barack Obama and Newark Mayor Cory Booker ’91 MA ’92. More recently, Tubbs has also gotten local support — from Stockton-area rapper MC Hammer, who led a canvass for Tubbs and Congressman Jerry McNerney on Nov. 5.
“MC Hammer might be [at my post-election party],” he said. “We’re going to do it big.”
While the big names surely gave Tubbs a recognition boost, celebrity endorsements don’t win city council elections. He and his staff, including a full-time field director and campaign manager, have been fundraising and going door to door since February, raising almost $80,000 and meeting large numbers of his district’s 48,000 residents.
Tubbs believes these efforts are the keys to his campaign’s success.
“I always say that if we raise more money and knock on more doors there’s no way we can lose, and we’ve done both of those things to the best of our abilities,” he said.
Tubbs approached his campaign with an underdog’s mentality, but that changed on Oct. 21, when he secured a surprising endorsement from The Stockton Record, which has a circulation of almost 50,000 daily.
“[The endorsement] was a huge deal,” he said. “No one thought we would get it because [The Record] is a really conservative paper.”
It wasn’t until after The Record’s endorsement that Tubbs realized he wasn’t an underdog anymore — and he set his sights on a landslide.
“I personally would like 60 percent,” he said. “I think a landslide victory would be good. … It would give a nice little mandate for change. But as long as I’m in office, things are going to change.”
Throughout the campaign Tubbs has balanced his time between politics and his job as the coordinator of the University of the Pacific’s community environment program.
Tubbs isn’t running alone, utilizing his network of friends and volunteers to reach the Stockton community. Christian Beauvoir ’14, a friend from Stanford, went to Stockton in September and knocked on hundreds of doors a day. Members of the Stanford Democrats have also driven the hour and a half north to canvass.
At this point, Tubbs is optimistic.
“I’m not nervous at all, because I know we’ve done everything we can do,” he said.
In any case, he believes his campaign has been a success, regardless of the outcome.
“I’m expecting a win … but if we don’t win I think we really showed what is possible,” he said. “I think we really inspired a lot of people in Stockton, but also everywhere … to make communities better places.”
Win or lose, the champagne will taste extra sweet on election night.
“We haven’t been drinking for the last 40 days of the campaign,” he said. “So everybody’s itching for Tuesday.”