A black man who says he was elected mayor of a small Alabama town has filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality — alleging that a clique of white residents prevented him from taking office.
The plaintiff, 57-year-old Patrick Braxton, claims he submitted the proper paperwork required to run for the city of New Bern in 2020 and that he won fair and square.
However, the filing claims, the current mayor and town council held an illegal, undisclosed secret election to keep him in office and prevent Braxton from taking office.
The unusual plight concerns the rural town of just 133 residents, which has been run for decades by a group of white residents who preside over a predominantly black population without being elected.
Civil rights lawsuit insists Newbern hasn’t held a proper election ‘for decades’ and instead ‘vacated the mayor’s office’ [to be] ‘Inherited’ by hand-picked heirs.’
Patrick Braxton, 57, claims he submitted the proper paperwork to run in the city’s 2020 mayoral election — and won fair and square.
After Braxton elected himself, the lawsuit described how incumbent Haywood Stokes III, above, the acting mayor, ‘conspired with other defendants to illegally hold office to prevent a majority black town council from taking office.’
‘Braxton alleges that he was the only candidate to qualify for any elected municipal office in Newbern,’ reads a portion of the 21-page filing that is currently making its way through the Southern District Court of Alabama.
It added that four other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit — James Ballard, Barbara Patrick, Janice Quarles and Wanda Scott — were tapped to serve on Braxton’s town council once he took office, but were also denied, likely because they were black.
After Braxton was elected himself, the lawsuit described the acting mayor, Haywood Stokes III, ‘conspired with the other defendants to unlawfully retain office to prevent a majority black town council from taking office.’
“To do this,” it added, city officials “met in secret” on October 6, 2020, without giving notice of the meeting and adopted a resolution to conduct a special election.
Braxton, a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder who decided to run for mayor out of concern that ‘the town council and the mayor are not responding to the needs of the majority black community’, claimed that notice was never given.
“Braxton alleges that he was the only candidate to qualify for elected municipal office in Newbern,” is part of the 21-page filing that is currently making its way through the Southern District Court of Alabama.
A Facebook post explaining the location in more detail as Braxton spotted them
The lawsuit claims the Newbern defendants — including Stokes III and several members of his cabinet — then filed statements of candidacy before deeming themselves the only ones to qualify for the special election.
They took their new positions as town council members in November of that year, leaving Braxton and his handpicked aides out in the cold.
The lawsuit was filed in April but only recently came to light, alleging that the tactic was deliberate.
‘When faced with the first duly elected black mayor and majority black town council, all defendants took racially motivated actions to prevent the first black mayor from serving in office,’ the suit reads.
Braxton added that he asked both black and white residents to potentially serve on the city council, but no white residents agreed to join.
The suit argues that Stokes III and his current council conspired to put the kibosh on the city’s first majority-black town council from exercising legislative power before it had the chance.
Rev. Michael Malcon, left, executive director of the People’s Justice Council, and Patrick Braxton are pictured in May 2022, when Malcon visited Newbern.
Stokes III, illustrated. Stokes’ office said all their actions, ‘at all times relevant to this case… were acting under color of law’.
This was done after Stokes and his council members – colleagues Gary Broussard, Jesse Donald Leverett, Voncil Brown Thomas and Willie Richard Tucker – met in secret to make the alleged ‘adoption. [the] ‘Special’ Election Ordinance Ahead of October Elections
Because there is no election campaign, Braxton said, only Stokes and his council members are eligible.
They were then “effectively reassigned” to their positions, the lawsuit said, and “unlawfully assumed their new positions” before being sworn in in November.
Meanwhile, Braxton assembled her own council, and claimed she was the only person who was truly qualified for the position because Stokes “didn’t bother to qualify as a candidate,” the suit says.
It also said that when Braxton approached Stokes for information about running for mayor a few months ago, the mayor misled him, provided ‘false information about how to qualify’ and did not provide public notice to residents.
Braxton, just outside the town hall, looks across the street at Newbern Mercantile, the only store there, where people rarely make a sound.
Even so, Braxton said he still gave then-City Clerk Lynn Williams a qualified money order before being duped by his statement of candidacy and Stokes and his secret election.
If elected, Braxton would be the southeast Alabama city’s first mayor in 165 years — since it was founded.
About 85 percent of Newbern’s 130 residents are black. In more than a century and a half, only one black person has served on the town council.
As for the group of white city officials named in the lawsuit, they agreed with Braxton’s assessment that they had “effectively reassigned themselves” to their positions, but said they did so within the bounds of the law.
In a response to Braxton’s lawsuit, obtained by CBS News, Stokes and his council said they ‘admit that plaintiff Patrick Braxton is black and is a former mayor of the City of Newburn’, but denied some of the other allegations.
Defendants also acknowledge that Braxton was the only person initially qualified to run for mayor and that no other candidate qualified for mayor or council member at that time.
They also admitted that a special election was held to install themselves on the town council and that ‘defendant Stokes became mayor of the town of Newbern after losing office by operation of the Braxton Act.’
As of Sunday, it remained unclear whether Braxton had reportedly lost the location, according to Law.
When contacted by CBS News this week, an attorney representing Stokes and his council members declined to comment but said his team recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges the defendants changed the locks on Town Hall after their secret election to keep Braxton out.
Braxton said he was not able to enter the building until the following month, when he found ‘someone had removed official town documents from the building.’
He claims that Lynn Thieb, who is also a defendant in the suit, has been barred from accessing the city’s PO Box since he was appointed postmaster in late 2021.
In the filing, Braxton’s lawyers allege that Thebes ‘acted in concert and/or at the behest’ of Stokes and his council.
The lawsuit added that Stokes and his council have not held any public meetings at the town hall since 2020 — instead electing to hold meetings at their own private residences.
Stokes’ office said all their actions, ‘at all times relevant to this case… were acting under color of law.’
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