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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Stockton's Rising Star

Young politician wants to rebuild his hometown – with Oprah’s help. 

Michael Tubbs' story almost sounds like an Oscar-winning drama. His story begins in the crime-ridden streets of Stockton, California. 

Stockton, California was ranked the most miserable U.S. city in 2009 by Forbes Magazine. The city is bankrupt and has one of the country’s worst crime rates.

“I remember hearing gunshots before going to sleep when I was younger,” said Tubbs.

Tubbs was born to a single, 16-year old mother and an incarcerated father in a rough neighborhood in Stockton.

He never dreamed he would one day graduate from Stanford University and be running for Stockton city council.

He also never dreamed he would one day become friends with media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

“She was like tell me about Stockton, so I said Stockton is the largest municipal city facing bankruptcy, we had a record number last year,” said Tubbs.

Winfrey recently donated $10,000 to Tubbs city council campaign. Her endorsement and unusual donation was the type of ‘feel good’ story the city was hungry for.

Tubbs is only the third politician ever endorsed by Winfrey. She endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008.

She also endorsed New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker in 2006 – he is also a Stanford graduate.

After graduation in May, Tubbs went back to Stockton to “reinvent Stockton” as he calls it by running for city council this November.

“For example, you can go in a classroom of 30 kids and almost all of them will know someone who has been shot,” Tubbs said. “That's incredibly dysfunctional, but it's become almost normal.”

“There was a kid at my school and some guys pulled him out of his car and beat him to death,” said teenage campaign volunteer Deja Croft. “It hurt me. How could that happen?”

Croft is one of the teens Tubbs has recruited for his campaign.

The group of teenage volunteers gathers at campaign headquarters each week to talk about ways to make their city better. They also canvass and make calls for Tubbs’ campaign.

“The work you guys are doing here is so… important,” says Tubbs to the group. “Throughout history when anything was going to be done, young people did it.”

“Seeing them here shows they actually do care about Stockton and want to see some change,” says Powell who is the lead campaign volunteer.

Tubbs hopes to win the election this fall; however his opponent has raised questions about his age and lack of political experience.

“Experience has been the biggest question on the campaign so far,” said Tubbs.

Tubbs will run against the district six incumbent Dale Fritchen.

Fritchen has served as a local school district board president and is currently the chair of the city’s budget and finance committee.

Tubbs says what he lacks in political experience, he makes up for in motivation. He’s motivated by the countless Stockton youth who like himself, have the odds stacked against them.

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