West St. Paul City Council member defends flying Confederate flag at home
By Nick Ferraro
West St. Paul City Council member Ed Hansen has a Confederate battle flag hanging off the back deck of his house and says "it’s cool."
Others, including the city’s mayor, have a different opinion of the flag, which is visible off busy Butler Avenue and to visitors at nearby Thompson Park. Written on the flag is the word "redneck."
"I don’t like it," Mayor John Zanmiller said. "Do I wish the flag wasn’t there? Yes."
Hansen, a first-term council member elected in 2010, said he put the flag out last summer and has heard no complaints.
"It’s my house," said Hansen, 41. "What’s the problem?
"It represents sovereignty, individual rights and individual liberty," he continued. "It’s my free speech, and that’s my choice."
Hansen said he is not concerned that the Confederate battle flag has historically been known as a controversial symbol of racism.
"I’m not a racist, and I don’t think it’s racist," he said. "People like to play the race card, though, when they don’t get their way."
Jay Brunn, a developer who is building a house next door to Hansen’s, said the flag caused one prospective buyer to shy away Thursday after touring the property in the 1100 block of Felix Street.
"He said he was going through the house and saw the flag and that he was no longer interested in buying in West St. Paul," Brunn said.
Brunn is building the house on a former city-owned lot he bought from the city’s Economic Development Authority. He believes the flag will make the house a harder sell.
"I’m very concerned about that," he said. "The flag has negative connotations for certain ethnic groups and brings back a lot of bad memories.
"I just would like to know what message he is trying to send."
When told the flag made one potential buyer turn away, Hansen said: "Good. I don’t want him for a neighbor then. If people choose to be ignorant, that’s their own fault. They should study history. It represents true sovereignty."
Council member Ed Iago said some residents have brought it up to him and "asked why it’s there."
"I heard it mentioned by different citizens," he said. "It’s pretty visible for people driving down Butler. But there are people in his ward that have asked me if I had seen his rebel flag on his house."
Zanmiller said he is not aware of any complaints made to the city. On Friday, he asked Hansen to take it down.
"I reached out to Mr. Hansen and asked him to remove the flag…because it does not represent West St. Paul or what we stand for," Zanmiller said. "The decision is entirely his to remove it. That’s about all I can do."
Hansen said he won’t oblige and that being an elected official should not matter one way or the other.
"That’s my private property," said Hansen, who owns a Little Canada pizza shop and has been conservative on taxes and spending while on the West St. Paul council. "What I choose to do there does not represent the city."
The flag doesn’t bother Bob Bushelle, Hansen’s next-door neighbor. Bushelle, 48, said he considers Hansen a friend.
"As long as he’s doing a good job as a council member and is not being biased or racist or anything, I don’t care," he said.
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