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The new mayor of an Alabama town was kicked out. 3 years later, he’ll be back.

Nearly four years after Patrick Braxton won the election for mayor of the small town of Newbern, Alabama, in November 2020, he could soon serve his first term.

Mr. Braxton said in a lawsuit that after winning the election, he was never given access to manage the city’s finances, was barred from opening the city mailbox and that he was even excluded from the town hall, after the locks were changed twice in six months.

Finally, on Friday, Newbern and Mr. Braxton filed a settlement agreement that, if approved by Judge Kristi K. DuBose of the Southern District of Alabama, will allow Mr. Braxton to begin his first term — three years and a half after the start of his mandate. .

“Every time I turned a corner, there was another obstacle in my way,” Mr. Braxton, a handyman who long worked as a community volunteer, said in an interview.

A town of about 130 residents, Newbern had not held mayoral elections since 1965 and instead allowed mayors to choose their successors. The city, where the majority of residents are black, has never had a black mayor. That streak of more than five decades without an election ended when Mr. Braxton filed paperwork to run for city mayor in the 2020 election and, as he was the only person to do so, he became the first black mayor in Newbern’s history.

But over the next three years, outgoing city leaders tried to block Mr. Braxton from holding that position, according to the lawsuit, in which he accused city leaders of racial discrimination. The lawsuit names the former mayor, Haywood Stokes III. Last week, the city and Mr. Braxton agreed to a settlement that would appoint Mr. Braxton as the city’s rightful mayor, ensure that the city holds regular elections and require the city to admit to violating a series of laws, including the Fifteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

“There were enough to try to get me to leave,” Mr. Braxton said. “But I didn’t.”

Morenike Fajana, senior attorney for the Legal Defense Fund and one of Mr. Braxton’s attorneys, explained that the judge dismissed Mr. Braxton’s lawsuit against the former city leaders because of a The legal doctrine that makes it harder to sue government officials. Ms. Fajana said it was likely the judge would approve the settlement agreement.

A clerk for Judge DuBose declined to comment when asked if she planned to approve the settlement.

The outgoing executives sued by Mr. Braxton have not admitted wrongdoing. Mr. Stokes could not be reached for comment. An attorney who represented Newbern in the settlement declined to comment.

Newbern’s history is deeply rooted in slavery in the American South, according to the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative. In a 2023 article, the organization wrote that one of Mr. Stokes’ ancestors, Peter P. Stokes, “enslaved at least five black people.”

Emily Zhang, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who teaches election law, said she was surprised when she heard about the case.

“What’s so crazy is that when we teach election law, a case like this would never come up because we almost never litigate whether or not elections should be held,” Ms. Zhang, explaining that election disputes usually involve more specific legal debates. .

And even though cities have a lot of autonomy over their laws, Ms. Zhang said Newbern’s tradition of not holding elections is not defensible.

Local law cannot violate state or federal law, Ms. Zhang explained. She gave a hypothetical example: Perhaps a city could require all voters to wear blue and yellow clothing when voting. But they still have to hold elections because of the requirements of state and federal law.

Regarding Mr. Braxton’s case, Ms. Zhang said she would “file it” and use it in her future election law classes.

Mr. Braxton is also looking to the future. If the judge approves the settlement, he will begin by forming his cabinet. He has already announced his intention to run for office.

“I’m there now,” he said with a smile.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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