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Friday, January 18, 2013

New Jersey town proposes American flag ban



West New York Mayor Felix Roque
West New York, a town in northern New Jersey, may adopt a law that bans the American flag from being displayed. 

Tucked into a proposed ordinance that would regulate window displays in businesses and televisions mounted to cars is a provision that would ban "flags, banners and pennants." Flags are included among 19 items "prohibited anywhere" in West New York, a Hudson County town across the Hudson River from New York City. The West New York Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to pass a preliminary version of the ordinance, scheduled for a final vote next month. 

The ordinance was authored by Mayor Felix Roque (D), currently underfederal indictment for computer hacking. Roque's spokesman, Pablo Fonseca, denied that the ordinance would prohibit the flying of the American flag in the town. 

"That takes it to an extreme," Fonseca told The Huffington Post. "The mayor is a retired colonel in the Army." 

Fonseca explained that the ordinance only covers commercial "flags, banners and pennants." The ordinance does not specify that banned items are commercial. 

Last year, the housing authority in Wrentham, Mass., banned the American flag until an outcry forced a reversal the next day. 

Opponents of the West New York ordinance said Roque, elected in 2011, is using the flag ban to fight a recall, as well as an effort to change the town's form of government from a commission with commissioners serving in an executive and legislative role, to another form with separate legislative and executive branches. 

Frank Ferriero, the founder of Residents for a Better West New York, told PolitickerNJ.com he believed Roque was targeting his vocal campaign against the mayor, which includes a truck that he drives around town with a television showing anti-Roque videos. Ferriero is leading an effort to change the form of government. 

Parks and Public Property Commissioner Count Wiley (D), a former Roque ally now trying to recall the mayor, told HuffPost he believes the political climate in West New York is driving Roque to push the ban. He said there was little discussion of the flag portion of the ban. Wiley was the only town commissioner to vote against the ordinance preliminary passage on Wednesday. 

"They are trying to control all aspects," Wiley told HuffPost. "It includes everything. So whenever something upsets them." 

Among the other items banned in the proposed ordinance is "flashing, moving, animated or digital signs," all signs emitting smoke and vapor, signs on the exterior of windows, signs that take up for that 15 percent of a window, neon signs, inflatable signs, signs that interfere with traffic and "signs which are not an accessary to a use located on the premises." Violators can be fined $1,000 per sign. The full ordinance can be viewed here. 

Wiley questioned the constitutional aspects of the sign ban, noting that if he set up a campaign headquarters he would be allowed only a limited number of signs. He also said the "not an accessary" language could ban businesses from posting political signs. 

Wiley and Roque had a falling out since their 2011 election on a reform platform. Earlier this year, Roque was indicted, along with his son, on charges of hacking into a political opponent's computer. The case is pending in federal court. 

Roque spokesman Fonseca stressed that the proposal is not political. 

"It is protect the residents of West New York," Fonseca said.
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