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Rudy Comes to South Philly, Hits Geno's First
A crowd of supporters, a contingent of protesters and the ubiquitous curious onlooker swarmed around leading GOP contender Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Judith, as they arrived in South Philadelphia, then made their way through the crowd and up to the counter at Geno's Steaks.
Giuliani reportedly ordered a "Whiz wit," a steak served with Cheese Whiz and onion fries.
Geno's gained national attention in mid-2006, when its owner, Joey Vento, put up a sign that read, "This is America. When ordering, please speak English."
Despite complaints from numerous groups, the sign still remains. More than that, Vento has used the publicity to rail against illegal immigration.
Giuliani, who had come from several New Jersey campaign events, told reporters that he's not opposed to immigration in general, but believes that the United States has to get tougher on illegal immigration, and that it needs to secure its borders.
Regan Cooper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration Coalition, served as the spokesperson for a group of about a dozen people protesting against Giuliani's appearance at Geno's. HIAS and Council Migration Service helped create the coalition and provides it with office space.
"We have plenty of great cheesesteak places. It's no accident that he chose this one," said Cooper. "This shows he stands shoulder to shoulder with Joey Vento."
Cooper also claimed that Giuliani had "flip-flopped" on the immigration issue.
Two HIAS attorneys were also among the demonstrators, although they were not officially representing the organization.
Judith Bernstein-Baker, executive director of HIAS, did not attend the protest but has debated Vento on talk radio. She said that, in truth, most immigrants are desperate to learn English, and that there's a lack of affordable classes available in the city.
"Vento is promoting a climate that is not welcoming of immigrants and refugees," said Bernstein-Baker. "If a candidate wants to stop there, that's their decision, but I find it odd."
A throng of people clustered outside as Giuliani went inside, and had dinner with Vento and Philly mayoral candidate Al Taubenberger, who earlier in the day was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)
Another smaller but louder group of demonstrators heckled Giuliani about his response to Sept. 11 -- namely, that he hasn't answered questions about health problems suffered by workers at ground zero, and whether proper safety measures were taken.