To hear him tell it, Joey Vento fought the good fight, defending his South Philly icon Geno's Steaks from a discrimination complaint filed two years ago.
On March 19, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations dismissed the complaint against Geno's, ruling that a controversial sign that Vento had posted on the shop window did not convey a message that service would be refused to non-English speakers.
Now Vento wants the city's Fair Practices Ordinance amended, saying he'll take his fight all the way to federal court if the city doesn't meet his demands.
"Joey has been vindicated," said his attorney, Albert G. Weiss, during a news conference yesterday in front of Geno's, at 9th and Passyunk. "He did not violate any city ordinances" by placing the sign in the window.
"We are happy with the decision, but not happy with the way [the case] proceeded," said Weiss. "The city took over two years prosecuting this case, while denying Joey his basic rights."
The sign - "This is America . . . when ordering, please speak English" - was hung more than two years ago. Since then, Vento has been on the defensive, saying that he has tons of support and that he isn't the racist that the news coverage made him out to be.
Vento and his lawyers intend to bring the fight to City Hall.
"We are sending a formal letter to the mayor on [Mayor Nutter's] comments that Vento was a 'black eye on the city,' and we want a one-on-one conference," said Vento's co-counsel, Shannon L. Goessling, of the Southeastern Legal Foundation. "We also want the appointing of a special panel that will help rewrite the law so it won't be unconstitutional."
Goessling said that the city would have 30 days to respond, "and if the city doesn't, we'll take our case to federal court."
"My intentions were not bad," said Vento, noting that his immigrant grandparents had to learn English to survive in America. "I have nothing against immigrants. In May 2006, it became an issue, and the sign had been up for nine months [before that]. "
Vento had sharp words for Nutter and for City Councilman James Kenney, whom he called "a wimp."
"Instead of coming to my face like a man, he goes behind my back with these charges [of discrimination]," Vento said of Kenney.
Kenney dismissed Vento's claims. The mayor's office had no comment yesterday. *