Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Joey Vento and Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum: Stupid Is As Stupid Does. No Geno's Cheesesteaks with Santorum For Me.

In plain English, Rick backs Vento

olleyc@phillynews.com 215-854-5184

INJECTING HIMSELF in the middle of a South Philly controversy as burning- hot as a stainless-steel grill, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (left) made an unscheduled stop at Geno's Steaks last night to wolf down a cheesesteak and stand behind its owner.

He voiced support - albeit in an odd, indirect way - for owner Joe Vento's much debated "Speak English" sign.

"It makes all the sense in the world to have a sign like this," he told a Daily News reporter after the paper was tipped off to his late-night visit. "There's not really an extensive menu here. I mean, come on, it's cheesesteaks, onions, et cetera. It's not that hard."

Santorum took a quick turn flipping shaved beef on Geno's grill and was cheered on by about 20 T-shirt-wearing supporters, mostly 26th Ward Republicans from South Philly, who'd been told the embattled GOP senator was coming.

"We are all out here for Santorum, mostly from the 26th Ward, big supporters of Vento and the First Amendment," said Andrew Dankanich, a GOP committeeman. "He's [Santorum] here because he's an American. America started in South Philly."

The senator's strange move, not formally announced to the media, seemed to signal his determination to continue using the raging immigration controversy as a means to close the gap with his Democratic election rival, state treasurer Bob Casey Jr. Most polls have shown Casey with a double-digit lead over the two-term incumbent.

Santorum recently aired TV ads charging that Casey had "joined with Ted Kennedy and other liberals in supporting a bill that grants amnesty to millions who've entered our country illegally... . That's just not fair." Casey has said the commercial distorts his position.

In the meantime, the owner of Geno's, cheesesteak impresario Joey Vento, has won national attention for his sign that reads: "This is America. When ordering, 'Speak English.' " Talk radio and blogs have been filled with both criticism and defense of the sign, which comes as the Mexican population of South Philadelphia is growing rapidly.

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