In the wake of a Facebook comment that sparked controversy, Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen says he supports a recall election if that process helps the community move forward.
Hagen spoke with Wisconsin Public Radio's "Hear Me Out" program in an interview at his home that aired Monday night on KUWS-FM 91.3.
"I would encourage and prefer a recall election to have the value, trust and direction dictated by the voters," he told reporter Danielle Kaeding. "That I think will eventually, hopefully, bring the community back together as to what direction they wish to take in all aspects of community."
The interview was recorded on Saturday morning, after Hagen and his wife, Lois, had interrupted a vacation because of a dinner invitation for that evening from the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports. Ibrahim Al-Qudah, the center's president, also was interviewed for the program.
On Dec. 21, Hagen responded on Facebook to a post that included a photograph of first lady Michelle Obama and wrote, "Unbelievable! She and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy that was so very hard fought for."
Hagen's use of the term Muslim, in particular, set off a controversy because President Barack Obama has repeatedly professed a Christian faith, and some interpreted Hagen's use of the term to be derogatory toward the Muslim faith.
Some people called for Hagen to resign - something he has said he won't do. Others, including several city councilors, have asked him to apologize - which he did last week in a letter published in the Superior Telegram. While he stood by his criticism of Obama's policies, he said in the letter that he used "a poor choice of words in a moment of anger" in referring to Obama as a Muslim.
Responding to a question from WPR about the possibility of the council taking a vote of censure against him, Hagen responded: "If that is what public and councilors feel is necessary to mend, move, repair the community, I'll accept that."
When was asked what he expects to happen next, Hagen seemed to express doubt about his future as mayor.
"I don't know that I have the trust in the community any more," he said. "To be honest with you, I don't feel secure here."
Any effort to begin a recall campaign against the mayor would need to wait until this spring at the earliest, after Hagen has completed a full year of his current term in office, in accordance with Wisconsin state law. Hagen was elected last April to his fifth and what he has said will be his final term as Superior mayor.
Hagen told Kaeding he didn't know if he would run in a recall election.
Hagen declined to comment to the News Tribune at Saturday night's event, but he told WPR that his delay in apologizing - it was more than a week after the controversy erupted - was because he was "deeply, deeply in pain and hurt by what was cast back at me for what I believed to be an honest error and mistake."
"I had my back up," he told WPR. "I'm not a racist. I'm not bigot. I'm not a religious zealot. I'm a Christian, and I have a strong faith in God. I have so many friends that are of various different religions."