LEE HEDGEPETH JUN 5, 2023
The confusion began in 2020 when Patrick Braxton became Newbern’s first Black mayor by operation of law. The town’s previous mayor, Haywood “Woody” Stokes III, had failed to file the necessary qualifying paperwork to run for the town’s top office. No citizens had filed to run for town council, either. Braxton, though, had taken great lengths to qualify. So without opposition, he assumed the office of mayor and, as had been the practice for years, appointed members of the town’s council — the first time Newbern had been represented by a body that reflected its majority-Black population.
Then the cogs of conspiracy, it seems, began to turn. Former members of the then-majority-white town council, members who had also failed to file qualifying paperwork, held what Braxton claims was an unpublicized, unlawful meeting to order a special election to fill their own seats. Only those present at the meeting knew about that decision, Braxton said, and were the only ones to “qualify” for the offices. After they “assumed office,” Braxton explained, they met again — without public notice — and appointed Stokes as mayor.
Now, nearly three years into his term, Braxton is still unable to discharge the duties of his office. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, Braxton claims that since he became mayor of Newbern, former Mayor Stokes and others have participated in an illegal conspiracy to prevent him from “governing the affairs of the town” simply because of his race. That conspiracy, Braxton argues, violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.