He was, as my Italian dad would say, a "character."
Not just "politically incorrect"...
Joey Vento was…
To hear his foaming-at-the-mouth liberal critics tell it…
An otherwise obscure south Philadelphia sandwich shop owner, who, almost overnight...
Became the face of an anti-illegal immigration movement.
It was 2006…when Joey took a stand at his cheesesteak stand.
It was a sign. A simple sign.
For all his customers to see.
"This is America: When ordering, please speak English."
The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations filed a discrimination complaint...Other groups threatened to close his shop, saying Joey was a racist.
Joey argued not so…that no one had been denied service at his restaurant for not speaking English, more likely just a mixed-up order "because" they did not speak English.
Joey's stand…and stand…quickly became a national sensation.
His call to bring America back to its English-speaking roots found support in a just burgeoning Tea party movement that welcomed his English-only policy.
As one tea party leader said at the time…Joey’s right. We are a melting pot, but that doesn't mean we are a nation of crackpots. Assimilate, or this country evaporates.
Soon Joey was being asked to run for Congress, even governor…but he would have none of it.
The restaurant guy would continue staking his future… on cheesesteaks.
And suddenly Philadelphians, whose only claims to recent fame were the Phillies...
And a statue of a fictitious boxer named Rocky Balboa…
Now had a real-deal pugilist in the name of Joey Vento…and his destination eatery "Geno’s."
But the rebel-rowser was never too far from the rallies.
This past July 4th, Joey was proving he was an equal-opportunity basher…
Sticking it to Republicans for not sticking to their guns.
The crowd cheered.
Joey had "steaked" his claim to yet another cause.
The guy with the joint, the rebel with a cause.
And despite all that racist talk, ultimately complete exoneration from no less than Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations…Geno's restaurant did not violate the city's fair practices ordinance.
Joey knew it all along.
All it took in this city of brotherly love was a not so brotherly push.
The little guy with the big voice.
That city not the only one a little sadder now.
Dead at 71.