BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson (D) set off a firestorm of controversy when he and the predominantly Democratic New Rochelle City Council voted to remove
a Gadsden flag from a local veterans buildings, citing its supposed partisan connotations, and suggesting it was too divisive for public use. The flag, the original battleflag of the revolutionary Navy, which shows a rattle snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” has become synonymous with the Tea Party movement in recent years.
His brazen move hasn’t hurt him politically so far, far from it, he recently received the nomination for Democratic candidate for county executive of Westchester. Amazingly, he’s considered a favorite against incumbent Republican Rob Astorino.
In the flag flap, Bramson took the position that the flag was put up without permission and was subject to removal because it was a private political statement on public property. However, he did not elaborate on opponents’ claims the flag is primarily a historic emblem.
“All residents and organizations in New Rochelle are, of course, free to display any flag or political message on private property,” Bramson said in an official release. “The city has never removed or sought to remove the Gadsden flag or any other flag from any private property.”
In response, the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association has enlisted the aid of the conservative Thomas More Law Center in an attempt to reinstate the flag. Thomas More Law Center’s Director of Mission Advancement Tom Lynch explained that though there were no legal proceedings yet, the matter remained unresolved.
Though board members supporting the flag’s removal cited its recent use by the Tea Party, Lynch explained the flag has been used for military purposes since the 1700s and that the Law Center’s position reflected a nonpartisan position.
“If you look at the mayor and you look at the vote, 5 to 2, it was split on party lines, so I guess they’re making it a political issue,” Lynch said. “We think it’s a patriotic issue.”
The controversy began on March 21, when the New Rochelle Armory’s Gadsden Flag was flown just underneath a new American flag. City Manager Chuck Strome briefly removed the Gadsden Flag after receiving complaints about its use as a Tea Party symbol, but allowed its placement after being informed of its lengthy history as a symbol of the American Revolution and military units.
In spite of this, the City Council voted along party lines to remove the flag, with the two Republican council members defeated by the five Democrats. Public Works removed the flag on the same day.
Outspoken opposition to Bramson’s campaign had been highly visible, with about 50 people reportedly appearing to support the flag at the council meeting’s vote. In a less dignified display, council member Jared Rice had also received racially-charged hate mail for their part in the removal, which the UVMPA was quick to condemn as “truly offensive.”
Notably, the flag has been flown at Westchester events without controversy. In spite of the current reluctance to use the flag in front of the Naval Armory, it was frequently displayed at the 2012 Memorial Day Parade and was even featured on a band shell where Bramson, who marched in the parade, delivered a speech.
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