So far, Kevin Lincoln has been a weak mayor. His political missteps have cost him City Council majority support, alienated the city manager, irritated donors and wasted city staff time.

An example of Lincoln’s unforced errors is his annual State of the City Address. In his 39-minute speech on May 18, Lincoln found time to talk about himself; to give shout-outs to community organizers, students, even his daughter’s 16th birthday; but not to utter a word of acknowledgement of council members.

“I think it was disappointing that council wasn’t recognized,” said Councilmember Michael Blower, offended by the snub. “I think it’s important. We’re a team — or we should be a team …”

One council member reportedly bought a new dress for the occasion and had her hair done only to return to City Hall fuming that the mayor hogged the limelight.

This may seem small potatoes, but a mayor needs at minimum a 4-3 vote to advance his agenda. Good mayors curry allies. They share credit. They acknowledge their peers’ successes. 

Lincoln has two votes, maybe; until that changes, his agenda goes nowhere.

The controversy over flying the Pride Flag over City Hall is the latest of Lincoln’s stumbles. At the council meeting on June 13 he talked for several minutes about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) — then voted against the pride flag. 

The vote, with one council member absent, was deadlocked; at a re-vote on June 20, the council approved flying the flag.

It’s understandable that Lincoln might vote no based on religious objections — he is a pastor — but piously intoning the importance of DEI is baloney if not followed by support for marginalized groups. 

City of Stockton Mayor Kevin J. Lincoln gives State of the City address during during the 2023 State of the City at Port of Stockton in Stockton, Calif., on May 18, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

The mayor’s string of mistakes arguably started when he fired the savvy political consultants at 3AM Communications. 3AM helped him win an upset victory in 2020. Often politicians retain consultants as advisers. 

Instead, Lincoln surrounded himself with 209 Times associates. Granted they, too, helped him get elected — through a smear campaign against incumbent Mayor Michael Tubbs — but judging by outcomes they give him a ton of bad advice. 

That’s no surprise. 209 Times people stated in interviews after Tubbs’ defeat that they are businesspeople, not journalists. They are out to make money. Their playbook is to get leaders and board majorities in local government and cash in with jobs, grants and contracts. Good governance is not their goal.

Perhaps, as an underdog, it was realpolitik for Lincoln to accept the 209 Times’ endorsement, but his ongoing relationship with them casts an enduring cloud over his administration. 

Take his I Am Ready setback. For months Lincoln insisted that an untested pilot program devised by a questionable Hollywood internet celebrity with ties to the 209 Times and disgraced former Mayor Anthony Silva should, in violation of the city charter, get special treatment and either $1 or $2 million of taxpayer money, while proven local nonprofits should have to slog through the funding application process. 

It was not only unfair. Many leaders and observers muttered fears of a con job. Lincoln looked as if he had zero discernment.

The council roundly rejected the special treatment.

This Waterloo also showed another Lincoln shortcoming: his sometimes lax control of council meetings. A mayor must preserve order. Instead, Lincoln relinquished command of the meeting to the internet celebrity who was given highly irregular special time to rebut council comments and seemed to own the room.

Lincoln’s decorum laxity — usually toward people whose views align with his — sometimes enables an atmosphere of barely suppressed populist anger that intimidates other citizens, impedes good governance and risks trouble. Stockton is no place to tell people the rules don’t apply.

By the way, Lincoln ran on the homeless issue. Once elected he brought his proposal for a low-barrier shelter to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. Fiscally, the proposal was imprudent. Supes rejected it. Since then Lincoln has played a secondary role.

Another self-sabotage is Lincoln’s drive to fire City Manager Harry Black. A council majority supports Black, the best city manager in years. Lincoln’s dogged campaign to fire him — perhaps to replace him with a manager he deems sympatico, perhaps to replace him with some 209 Times hack — is not in the city’s best interests.

If a city manager has a mayor’s back, a mayor can notch substantial wins. Lincoln has spoiled his relationship with Black. Reportedly this has angered some of Lincoln’s donors. 

Until yesterday, neither Lincoln nor his personal PIO would talk to me. Five times I asked to interview him; five times his office said no. In 34 years of journalism, I’ve never met a crew like this. The mayor’s office said no before I wrote a single word about him. 

Perhaps the 209 Times types gave him more bad advice (“Oh, you don’t want to talk to him.”). That’s speculation.

What I can say is there is no better way to arouse a journalist’s suspicions than to stonewall him. A mayor who ducks questions is either being soft or up to something. A PIO who abets stonewalling sabotages their boss. Politics is the ugly art of making friends, not journalistic sleuths determined to find a smoking gun.

Come on, man, a mayor’s job is to answer tough questions. If they have good answers, it’s an all-round win: the mayor looks competent, the journo gets an informed perspective, citizens get information and analysis about public business. 

Lincoln appears to prefer softball interviews with dewy-eyed student journalists, or Instagram videos of ribbon cuttings or his curiously frequent school visits (he said at the State of the City event he has visited at least 56 schools). 

Now, here’s a scoop: in February Lincoln, unbeknownst to the public, launched an ill-conceived bid to control all city information.

Finding language in the city charter (Article X1-A, sections 1150, 1151, 1152) that says, “The Public Information Officer shall be under the direction and supervision of the Mayor,” Lincoln moved to take the public information role away from the city’s main PIO,  a woman of 30 years’ experience who works in the city manager’s Office, and give it to the mayor’s PIO, a former church employee with no previous experience who works in the Mayor’s Office. 

“Charter Section X1-A is not being followed and must be remedied,” wrote Lincoln, who frames the issue as a necessary matter of rectifying an illegal practice, which technically it may be.

Lincoln also demanded to be the information point person during emergencies when the state Office of Emergency Services holds Emergency Operations Meetings. He wanted to be the face of emergency command. 

Lincoln decreed that the transition would begin March 31 and the Mayor’s Office would assume all PIO duties by July 1.

There followed a long exchange of emails and over-the-table meetings in which the mayor was repeatedly advised that — charter language notwithstanding — no Stockton mayor ever took over all PIO duties because it simply will not work. 

It was explained (in dozens of documents, which I obtained through a California Public Records Act request) that the mayor’s plan would violate federal labor law, other charter provisions, council policy directives, and the City Manager’s contract.

In other words, Section X1-A, though voter approved, failed to account for a thicket of conflicting laws that likely make this charter provision impossible to implement.

To detail these obstacles would require a separate treatment. Which may be necessary, as a limited response from the mayor’s PIO, Dana Sovinec, suggests he will press on.

“The City is not in compliance with Charter Article XI-A in the following ways,” Sovinec wrote. “A public information office does not exist; Citywide communications are not administered by the Mayor’s appointed PIO and are instead administered by staff members under the authority of the City Manager; the Mayor does not have authority over City staff, making any staff who are functioning in public information/communications capacities in violation of the Charter.”

Former Stockton Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi and Mayor Kevin Lincoln at a meeting in 2022. (File photo)

She added, “Mayor Lincoln’s goal is for the City to operate in accordance with the direction given by Stockton voters who approved Article XI-A in the City Charter.”

So the guy who ignored the rules with I Am Ready is now the champion of the rules? Or does the mayor and his staff believe control of city information will benefit them politically? My opinion is they don’t know how much they don’t know about a public information office.

Whatever the case, this campaign shows again Mayor Lincoln’s seeming inability to divine the doable in government, one reason his batting average is a bus ticket to the minor leagues unless he improves his swing.

Asked for a list of the mayor’s accomplishments, Sovinec referred me to the mayor’s website. Any other PIO would gratefully have curated some bullet points. Or, God forbid, put the mayor on the horn.

Michael Fitzgerald is an investigative news columnist for Stocktonia. His column usually runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. email:

Join the Conversation


  1. Lincoln’s ineptness and lack of leadership is no surprise. He ran for office with no governing experience, and on a promise never to leave the city. While his “Where’s Waldo” appearances throughout the city are charming, they are tone death to the challenges most Stockton residents face on a daily basis. Of greater concern is the company he keeps, and the backdoor ease in which they direct his decisions. It was not Lincoln’s idea to form a partnership between the city and SUSD Family Resource Center, run by former director Motec Sanchez. Nor was its his idea to appoint Sanchez to the Measure M Oversight Committee. I fear a similar appointment would have been made had he succeeded in taking control of all city information.

  2. If I remember correctly he promised to see that city streets would be repaired. Has anybody driven in Stockton and found a street that doesn’t cause you to worry about your suspension or tires! He spoke of obtaining outside funding. I see no positive results!😡😡😡

  3. My constant refrain: given Stockton’s form of City Manager governance, the most important role a mayor can perform is to hit the road, sell Stockton, and find investment. Get money and talent here. In that regard, it’s difficult to think of a more successful mayor than Michael Tubbs. Whether you are a supporter of UBI or not, you can’t argue with the millions of dollars that Mayor Tubbs brought to Stockton (still being distributed to students via Stockton Scholars) and the DOZENS of national press stories, who focused their lenses on Stockton for the first time since embarrassing stories of bankruptcy and crime a decade before. Scores of well-connected, civic-minded professionals relocated to Stockton because of Tubbs’s initiatives. It is VERY hard to build something good. And, as Lincoln and 209Times have demonstrated -very easy to break it.

  4. I’ll give you this one for free – “The Invisible Mayor of Brookside”. He lost me with his utterly spineless lack of a John McCain moment under the 209 Times firehose of bullshit against Tubbs. Could have said something, ANYTHING, didn’t, and profited. He still does not seem capable of separating his day job from his side hustle as Mayor of the most diverse city in the nation- sad. Never was qualified, hasn’t grown into the job, and his 209 Times connections are utter, disqualifying poison. Resign.

    Michelle Padilla’s state of shock at being called out for her callousness was a complete schadenfreude moment to watch. The woman who echoed the language of the absolute worst person in government in this county (Tom Patti) with a flippant excuse along the lines of “the US flag covers evvvvveryone” (essentially telling the LGBTQ community “ALL LIVES MATTER!” and then flipping them off), couldn’t process the amount of pushback she got for being terrible. Good. Resign.

    I still hold out hope for Michael Blower, someone I’ve known for years and genuinely like, but this was a dropped ball. Our children, relatives, friends, coworkers, his constituents (apart from a sample size of 1 friend who didn’t care about the pride flag), watched this fumble with some dismay.

    I hope that somehow this will grow into the Council we need, but I’m not betting on it.

  5. The PIO revelations are the most disturbing. The charter language should be amended. An elected official should not control City information. It is too easily co-opted for political gain. A PIO in the City Manager’s office has to represent the entire Council. The Mayor has his own PIO. Also, leave it to the professionals to be the conduit during an emergency. Electeds have a role to comfort the community and keep morale up but not to usurp professional staff. They aren’t qualified. I thought better of the Mayor. But he is sinking quickly in my estimation.

  6. I agree with both Mr. Scatena and Noah. Look at the Mayor’s last name. He played on his name “Lincoln ” especially when it came to the Lincoln and Swenson Golf Club area, forget the “rest” of The City of Stockton. “The City” who PAYS his salary.
    The City of Stockton is ALL 4 CORNERS. It’s saddening to see and hear that a supposed “Man of the Cloth” behaves and behaved like he did and allowed a “shady ” campaign to be in a Public Political position, remember Mr. Mayor, you were voted in and you can be voted out. It’s a shame how the Council doesn’t have a “Backbone ” because they too are focused on money. Remember what The Bible said about money.

  7. I have always believed lincoln was a shill for 209 times. My views have not changed. He should be getting businesses here and procuring grants for our city. What has he done for homelessness? He is a failure and should resign.

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