If Michael Tubbs were a fictional character, the details of his life until 2016 — the year he became the mayor of Stockton at age 26 — might be too by-the-book inspirational to feel believable. Born to a teenage mother and a criminal father who has spent most of his son’s life behind bars, Tubbs excelled in school and won a full scholarship to Stanford, where a friendship with the future co-founder and CEO of Snapchat would play an outsized role in his political career.
After the fatal shooting of his 21-year-old cousin, Tubbs returned to his Central Valley hometown to reform it, becoming the city’s youngest ever councilmember at the age of 22, then its youngest ever (and first Black) mayor four years later. It should be of no surprise at this point in Tubbs’ biography that, after a White House internship during his time at Stanford, he received Barack Obama’s endorsement for his mayoral run.
Tubbs cuts a stirring figure as the subject of HBO’s Stockton on My Mind, a new documentary debuting tonight (July 28) on the premium cable channel. Stockton is a city described by director Marc Levin as “one of the poorest, most violent, least literate cities in the nation.” Since the usual approaches to dealing with those challenges weren’t bringing adequate results, Tubbs, it seems, decided to turn his city into a policy laboratory.
Stockton on My Mind focuses on three novel programs that Tubbs has implemented. The most buzzy initiative is his universal basic income (UBI) plan, which provides $500 a month to 125 randomly chosen Stockton residents. The other measures are more familiar: a scholarship program for all Stockton high-school alumni enrolling in a four-year university (funded by a $20 million grant from Tubbs’ former dormmate Spiegel) and greater investment in an anti-gun violence org that encourages mediation between rival boys and young men.
Tubbs has faced considerable opposition to his novel efforts, including a failed recall in 2018.