NewCo Shift Forum 2018
When You Lead, Be Bold About It
Instead of being “that one person who made it out,” Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs went back to his hometown to see if he could be the change he wanted to see.
Upon taking office in January 2017, Michael Tubbs became both Stockton’s youngest mayor and the city’s first African-American mayor. He’s also the youngest mayor in the history of the country who represents a city with a population of over 100,000 residents. The changes he is trying to effect are bold, inspiring, and made for a riveting presentation at NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year. Below is his talk and a transcript edited for clarity.
John Battelle: When I heard about our next speaker, I reached out through formal channels, but he called me on his cell phone, which was really cool. “Hey, it’s Michael. What’s up?” I ask, “Mr. Mayor, would you please come and speak at this conference?”
He said, “Yeah, man. When is it?” Clearly, this is a new generation of political leader. Please join me in welcoming Mayor Michael Tubbs from the city of Stockton to Shift Forum.
Michael Tubbs: I was hoping to get the Oprah treatment with the Q&A. Good afternoon.
My name’s Michael Tubbs. I have the privilege of being the mayor of the great city of Stockton, California. It’s kind of interesting that I’m here at this conference today.
I was trying to make sense of it through all this talk about Bitcoin and other stuff I don’t know much about. I think the frame is this. Whether you’re in business, non-profit, private sector, government leadership is needed, especially around these things we hold valuable.
I’m going to spend a couple minutes talking about the work we’re doing in Stockton. Not because we figured everything out, not because we have all the answers, but we are exercising leadership in being bold, especially in terms of facing some of our most intractable problems.
The journey of Stockton, our shift forward, we call it Reinvent Stockton. The idea is this — the status quo is not working for the vast majority of citizens. It’s our job is as leaders in government, in the private sector, in our community to do something about it.
The genesis of the frame of this idea started 27 years ago when I was born. My mother, she had me when she was a teenager. My father’s been incarcerated my entire life. A lot of things we talk about in terms of opportunity, in terms of mass incarceration, in terms of the power of education are things that are very personal for me.
When I left Stockton and went to Stanford, I felt I hit the lotto. I did not think I was coming back. The goal actually was to get as far away as possible, make a lot of money, and then go back and visit on vacations, things of that sort.
Then my junior year in college, while I was interning at the White House, my job was to work with mayors and councils. I saw at a local level — despite national gridlock — mayors from towns like Laredo, Texas, or Oklahoma City, or Newark, New Jersey, or San Antonio were doing incredible things for their cities of 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 people.
Around the same time, one of my cousins was murdered in the spike of homicides we had in 2010. That was kind of my reckoning moment. I sat there in anger and with tears and very frustrated and really asked myself, what was the point of all the opportunities I enjoyed at Stanford, as an intern at Google, after spending time at Credit Suisse?
What was that all for? There had to be something more important than me being comfortable, me being OK, and me being that one person that made it from Stockton. That’s why I decided to run for city council in 2012.
There had to be something more important than me being comfortable, me being OK, and me being that one person that made it from Stockton.
I spent four years on city council, which is government years. Times that by seven, like dog years, so 28 years in local government. It was crazy enough to say I want to run for mayor and not just focus on the issues in the council district, but the whole city.
Just by way of context, Stockton’s a city of 315,000 people. It’s about 80 miles east of here. It’s the home to the oldest Sikh temple in North America.
At one point, we had the largest Filipino population outside the Philippines. We have a deep water port, one of the busiest ports in this nation. We have the oldest private university west of the Mississippi.
We have a lot of assets and a lot of challenges. I think the point of this talk is to show that it’s not just business people who are thinking, there are some folks in government that are trying our best to solve some of these issues we talk about.
Our work in Stockton is really motivated by two basic premises. The first is this — that talent and intellect are universal, equally-distributed across our community, but resources and opportunities are not. Oftentimes, that’s a hard conversation to have. I remember some of my classmates at Stanford. When I would say that, they would say, “No. I work hard. No I did this.” That’s true.
I submit to you there’s people in my community who work harder than anyone I know. I’m thinking about the Uber driver who drives 14 hours a day. I’m thinking of the migrant farm worker who’s out there in the heat and snow and all the elements picking fruit.
I’m thinking of the single mom who works at Denny’s 10 hours a day, goes home, takes her kids, put them to bed, and then goes to find another job. Those people work incredibly hard, but for a variety of reasons, often being structural, our opportunity structure is not one that rewards that effort and work.
Our second premise I want to spend the most time today talking about is the idea that investing in people is the smartest investment we can make.
In Stockton, over the past year and moving forward, our whole policy frame is how do we invest in our citizens. Not just the Michael Tubbs’ who have 4.0’s that are going to go to great schools, but my friends who have the 1.5’s and the 2.0’s and who have actually been a part of our community for a long time.
How do you invest in everyone, but especially the ones most marginalized, most left out, and oftentimes, the most difficult to work with? It’s from these two frames that the three initiatives I’m going to talk about today stem from.
The first one is the Stockton Scholarship Program. I think earlier today we heard from the CEO of Starbucks, and he talked about the investment they’re making in their workers to get higher education. The same thing is true with what we’re doing from the government level in Stockton.
What’s beautiful about this initiative, it’s not just government by itself. It’s government, it’s philanthropy, it’s also our business community rallying together and saying our children are our most precious asset. What can we do to ensure that when they graduate from high school, they are college- and/or career-ready?
To that end, we kicked off the initiative with a $20 million gift which makes it so now CSU tuition is free for the vast majority of kids in our largest school district, Stockton Unified.
What’s been fascinating though is that the tuition gap was only a thousand dollars per student. A thousand dollars a year were keeping students who are brilliant, who had worked hard and who had did everything right from going to college.
What’s also been the most inspiring thing from this initiative, from my vantage point, is how we’ve been able to rally the entire community around our kids. Oftentimes, we speak about Ed reform. In education, it’s always stick, stick, stick. It’s always that teacher unions are bad, the schools are bad. No one’s doing anything, the kids are lazy, no one’s learning, and nothing changes.
In Stockton, we’re having a different conversation. We’re saying we have this gift of $20 million, we want to grow it to $100 million to serve every kid in our city for a generation. What can we do to make sure our kids are ready?
Now we see the business community stepping up and saying, “You know what, I’ve been talking about it, but now I will actually offer internships to your students.” We have the school districts say, “We’ve been talking about making sure we have college access and a rigorous curriculum, but now we want to make it happen.”
I think especially for the business leaders in the room who are passionate about education, who are passionate about their future workforce, the lesson from this is that oftentimes it’s easier to catalyze change with a carrot, with an opportunity, with a gift, and still get the things you wanted to see done without demonizing people, having big political fights and being all over the news.
The second way we’re investing in people in Stockton is also kind of controversial. It’s this program called Advance Peace. The premise in this is much like the Stockton Scholarship Program.
It’s important to invest in our kids who are going to go to college, or community college, or a trade school. It’s also important to invest in the young men, the less than 1 percent of our population that drives 80 percent of our violent crime rate.
Like many urban cities, Stockton, like any city of more than a hundred thousand people, Stockton has historically had a problem with shootings and violent crime. For most of the past 30 years, we’ve actually been double or triple the state average.
Traditionally, the response has been let’s invest in more jails, let’s invest in more cops, let’s invest in more punishment. One of the inputs of more money going in, the outputs, the metrics, the objectives and goals are getting changed.
This year, we say we’re going to try something radical. We’re going to focus all our attention on the 127 guys in our community who are most likely to be the people that shape the perception of our community as one that’s violent and dangerous. It hasn’t been without critics.
People are saying, “Mayor, with all the needs in our community, why should we invest in these young men who may still be carrying guns? With all the issues we have in our community, why should we give them opportunity? Why should we give them a hand up? Why should we spend our time investing in them?”
The response has been consistently, number one, for every shooting and every homicide in every city, the cost to a city is $400,000 between the overtime and filling out police reports, and the trials, and the investigations, and the clean-ups, and the hospital visits.
Number two, there’s a community impact. There’s been research done at UC Berkeley that talks about how in every shooting in a neighborhood, the effect on children sometimes is as much to depress a whole year of student achievement.
Whether we want to or not, we’re spending money on these guys. It’s not that we’re saying we can’t save all of them, but we’re going to invest opportunities in them.
The business community again is a big partner in that. What we’ve heard from these guys is after they get clean, after they get their cognitive-behavioral therapy training, after they do everything right — I’m going to say it how we say it back home. If they ain’t got a job, it’s going to be only a matter of time before they get back in old cycles of violence and crime.
The business community has stepped up and said, you know what, it’s important for our bottom line, it’s important for our corporate social responsibility. We’ll do our part to see when the guys are ready that they actually have a real job and a real opportunity. Let’s go back to the second-to-the-last slide.
Last but not least, if that’s not enough crazy ideas from a crazy 27-year-old in one city, the last thing we’re trying this year is an idea as old as this union itself — the idea of Universal Basic Income.
The idea’s been advocated for by Thomas Paine since the agrarian revolution. Dr. King, who we just celebrated, was calling for this before he was assassinated. I think the statistics in this state especially show that there has to be a conversation about the economic system of our country.
One out of every two Californians can’t afford a $400 emergency. These are people who are working. These are people who are contributing. These are people who are doing everything right, playing by the rules, but seeming to fall further and further behind.
We just read a study that says in the past decade, the vast majority of jobs created were in the gig economy. Not jobs that come with full benefits. Not jobs are coming with stable wages, jobs that pay a little bit above the $15 minimum wage.
We partnered with a group called the Economic Security Project, and we’re going to pilot a basic income demonstration. What we hope to find is what’s been found in other basic income demonstrations. They just did a report about the Ontario Province in Canada and the good things that happen when people were given money.
They weren’t buying drugs and they weren’t doing bad things with it. They’re paying for necessities like healthcare bills, like putting money away and saving it for a rainy day, like paying off credit card debt, like figuring out ways to even contribute more to society.
I’m excited because as we interviewed folks in Stockton, we heard parents say things that with just $500 a month, they’re able to fix a car so they can take their kids to all the practices. With just $500 a month, they could maybe take some time off work and work on their startup idea. With just $500 a month, they could go back to work and afford child care.
The bet we’re making on this one is similar to the bets we’re making with the Advance Peace Program and the Stockton Scholarship Program. An investment in people is the most important investment we can make.
I truly believe that the folks in our community and the communities nationwide are smart, resilient, and intelligent enough to make good decisions with that help us all create a winning community.
As I prepare to conclude, I want to end with a story because I think this story really encapsulates why we’re all here. It highlights the urgency of the current day and the influence and power you all have from where you sit as leaders, especially in the private sector.
Eight years ago, I was on the Freedom Rides with the original Freedom Riders. We went through Anniston, Alabama and other places like that.
I was terrified for half of the trip. I’m not going to lie.
As we were approaching New Orleans, one Freedom Rider — his name was Bob Singleton — he looked at me and he said, “Michael, I was arrested on August 4th, 1961. Why is that day important?”
I said, “If you weren’t arrested, we wouldn’t be on this trip, so thank you.” I was fishing for a compliment.
Then he said, “On that day, Barack Obama was born.” Then he looked at me and said he had no idea that the choice he made — at that time, he was just 19 — as a 19-year-old would pave the way so that 50 years from now, the opportunity structure of this country would look different.
Then he looked at me and said, “What are you prepared to do today so that 50 years from now, the opportunity structure of your community looks different?” I think that’s the question before us in these next three days in this forum.
We all aren’t in government, we all aren’t CEOs, but we all are somebody. The question is this, “What are we prepared to do today so that 50 years from now, the values we hold so dear of opportunity, of equality, of equity, of investing in people aren’t under the same attack as they are today?”
What are we prepared to do today so that 50 years from now, we’re still not having conversations about Parkland shootings? What are we prepared to do today so that 50 years from now, a child being born today has every opportunity we’ve had and then some?