YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A West New York protest group has scheduled a rally at Town Hall tomorrow night “to protect First Amendment rights of residents and businesses” amid Mayor Felix Roque’s claims that an ordinance that he said aims to “clean up” the town won’t ban American and other national flags from being flown.
The ordinance, introduced last week, bans “flags,” banners and 17 other items. It doesn’t specify any exclusions to the flag provision.
In response, Residents for a Better West New York plans to protest at Town Hall (photo, above), beginning at 5 o’clock.
“As it currently stands, this ordinance puts approximately 90% of the businesses in WNY in violation of this ordinance,” the organization said in an email tonight. “In addition, homeowners can face the same violations and penalties for hanging such items as American flags, banners, and etc. from their private homes.”
Roque insisted the issue “has been an unfortunate matter of misunderstanding.”
“As a colonel in the United States Army for 37 years, it would be absolutely absurd for me to support flag banning in any way,” said Roque, who, along with his son, Joseph, is under federal indictment on charges of hacking into the email account and taking down the website of recall organizers (SEE: Federal grand jury indicts West New York Mayor Roque, son).
If not for the United States, Roque said, he wouldn’t have become a physician or colonel or mayor.
What’s more, he said: “It would be a violation of our freedom of speech to disallow residents to show their patriotism.
“This is the sort of oppression I experienced in Cuba,” Roque added. “The freedom to proudly display the American flag and to express oneself is what inspired me to serve in the United States military for nearly four decades.”
The intent of the “General Sign Regulations,” the mayor emphasized, are “to address the digital signs and advertisements polluting our streets, NOT to ban the American flag. Many surrounding towns have enacted similar laws in order to reduce the nuisance of too much advertisement.”
The 2014 Formula One race will put West New York “on a world stage,” Roque said, “and I’m trying to make sure that we look good…. Ultimately the ordinance is meant to improve the quality of life for the residents of West New York, which is always our goal.”
Frank Ferriero, founder of Residents for a Better West New York, is having none of it, however.
“Many of our residents fled oppressive countries that prohibited freedom of speech and other basic liberties,” he said. “It’s appalling that at mayor in a town in the United States of America would attempt — better yet, even introduce — such an ordinance that violates the First Amendment and the principles that this great nation was built on.”
He also said Roque is targeting him, in particular, through the ordinance.
Ferriero, who is pushing for a recall election and a change from the commissioner form of government to a mayor and council, has trucks that roll through the city showing vidoes critical of Roque and his administration.
“[T]his ordinance was a clear and present political attack of Mr. Ferreiro’s business and freedom of expression,” he said.
The measure does set limits on televisions mounted to cars, as well as window displays, while specifically ordering that “flags, banners and pennants” be “prohibited anywhere.”
It also cites signs that are “flashing, moving, animated or digital,” made of neon, inflatable, or emitting smoke and vapor, bench signs, LED signs, those that take up more than 15 percent of a window or door, are freestanding or that interfere with traffic, among others.
It also includes, without being specific, “signs which are not an accessary [accessory] to a use located on the premises.”
Violators can be fined $1,000 per sign.
The Board of Commissioners approved a preliminary version of the ordinance, 4-1, last Wednesday. A final is set for Feb. 20.
Roque became mayor in 2011 after leading a recall effort against Sal Vega and then defeating him in a general election.
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