In S. Phila., Giuliani talks, greets and eats

Posted: October 02, 2007

For 45 minutes or so yesterday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought the color and passion of the presidential campaign to the corner of Ninth and Passyunk.

En route to a campaign fund-raiser with his wife, Judith, the Republican presidential front-runner made a boisterous and chaotic stop at Geno's Steaks, a visit with obvious political symbolism.

Geno's is owned by Joey Vento, who got national and international attention last year for posting a sign in the window declaring, "This is America. When ordering, please speak English."

Giuliani, who met with Vento after ordering a cheesesteak, told reporters during a sidewalk scrum that he wants new arrivals to this country to be required to read, write and speak English if they want to become citizens.

"Immigration is wonderful. Immigration is the best thing going for us," Giuliani said. "We need new people to come here. We need people who are going to inform us, give us new ideas. But people have to do it legally. Illegal immigration is a bad thing. Legal immigration is a wonderful thing."

As mayor of New York in the 1990s, Giuliani at times defended illegal immigrants and urged measures to ease their path to citizenship. This year, he opposed the immigration overhaul bill backed by President Bush, saying the nation's priority should be sealing the border.

Vento said he supported Giuliani because the two men agreed on the issue.

"He wants to secure the borders, for non-citizens to have IDs," Vento said in an interview, adding that he, too, opposed only illegal immigration. "And Mayor Giuliani believes we should have a common language in this country, and naturally that's English."

About 100 supporters and party loyalists, including Philadelphia mayoral candidate Al Taubenberger, turned out to greet Giuliani and to yell encouragement.

Also lining Ninth Street were several dozen protesters, carrying signs that read "Philly Loves Immigrants" and "Giuliani Flip Flops on Immigration."

The demonstrators' spokeswoman, Regan Cooper of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, accused Giuliani of "pandering to that kind of hatred" by associating himself with Vento.

Earlier in the day, Giuliani made three appearances at the Jersey Shore in what was his second trip to the Garden State in less than a week.

New Jersey is to hold its primary Feb. 5, the Super Tuesday of 2008, along with California, New York, Texas, and numerous other states. Polls show Giuliani with a huge early lead in the state.

Giuliani said here last night, as he said last week in New Jersey, that he was the GOP candidate most capable of running a truly national campaign next fall, conceding no part of the country.

"Every single poll shows that I would be the strongest Republican candidate, the one who could run in 50 states, the one who could win Pennsylvania, for example," he told reporters. "I think that's going to end up being very important."

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have voted Democratic in each of the last four presidential elections.

Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or leichel@phillynews.com.

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