Vento to candidates: No Geno’s? No guts

vento042508_270
Geno's owner Joey Vento at his steak shop in South Philadelphia. (April Saul / Inquirer)

On Tuesday, Primary Day, Barack Obama went across the street to Pat's for a cheesesteak.

Same day, Hillary Clinton had a chicken cheesesteak with Italian greens in the Philadelphia suburbs.

To Geno's owner Joey Vento, such decisions showed such a lack of courage that neither Democrat deserves to be president.

"If they don't have the guts to come here and talk about the immigration problem ... they're not capable of running our country," he said.

Tomorrow afternoon, Vento will take on Geraldo Rivera in a soldout debate on immigration at the Inquirer and Daily News Building at Broad and Callowhill Streets. The discussion will be carried live during Dom Giordano's 1-to-4 p.m. show on WPHT (1210 AM, "The Big Talker").

Vento has been something of a national figure since a sign in his restaurant's window started making headlines two years ago.

Poll

Where should John McCain get a cheesesteak in the fall?

Still there, it reads:

"This is America. When ordering please speak English."

Last month, the city's Commission on Human Relations ruled in a split decision that the sign did not constitute discrimination.

Geno's doesn't refuse service to Spanish-speaking customers, Vento has said.

The last candidate to stop by Ninth and East Passyunk for a photo op was Republican Rudy Giuliani in October.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, went to Pat's King of Steaks, Ninth and Wharton, where they ordered theirs "Whiz with" - avoiding John Kerry's famed faux pas there four years ago of ordering a cheesesteak hoagie with Swiss.

Hillary Clinton avoided both landmarks, grabbing her chicken steak at Boccella's restaurant while in Conshohocken.

"They're both dummies, as far as I'm concerned," said Vento.

If Obama had stopped at Geno's and just politely listened to Vento's views about illegal immigration, the senator's poll numbers might have shot up 8 points, Vento said.

Obama needn't agree. He could just say, " 'I think I'll take this under advisement,' " Vento said.

"I'm for everything that he's against," Vento said.

Obama's reluctant to wear flag pins, Geno's is full of flags. They differ on abortion. Obama wants to bring the troops home, Vento wants them to finish the mission.

Clinton's gastronomic choice also raised his hackles. "There's no such thing as chicken steak," he said. "... I refuse to sell it. This is beef country. Beef is the backbone of the United States. ... The cattle drives! Rawhide! Clint Eastwood driving the cattle."

"I'm the spokesman for the United States of America," Vento said.

"I'm disappointed in McCain, too, you know," he said of John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

"What I like about him is he's probably got about 40 percent of conservative left in him," Vento said.

If the Arizona senator stops in, maybe he'd learn a thing or two from Vento and get straightened out, the South Philly politicial whiz said.

"I have no problem with legal immigration," he added. "... You shouldn't be rewarded for not obeying the law."


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.