Despite initial outrage following an X-rated rant caught on camera in Hoboken earlier this month, the 9th Cloud Vape Van will not have their license revoked.
Joseph Ruggiero, the owner of the 9th Cloud Vape, was caught in an expletive-filled rant earlier this month that many labeled as “hate speech,” prompting several city officials to call for his vendor license to be revoked.
However, Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia said that although that was the original plan, the business had reached a settlement agreement with the city that would allow them to continue operations no earlier than May 31st once Ruggiero completes 10 anger management classes.
Dana Wefer, a Hoboken Housing Authority commissioner, said the matter at hand was clearly protected by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and therefore should not be punishable by municipal government.
“I would say that even with the revised resolution, I’m concerned this will have a chilling effect on free speech,” said Wefer, also an attorney.
“It says, in the resolution itself, that the purpose of this is to set an example to other vendors, so that they will not engage in a similar type of behavior or whatever the weasel wording is.”
Another resident, Rochelle Flynn, also felt sanctioning Ruggiero was a violation of freedom of speech.
“When I heard [about] this incident I was horrified, not so much what was on the video, because let’s face it: this is America, people have the right to say and do stupid things and they exercise that right all the time,” she rationalized.
“But I was shocked by the reaction of our elected officials. It is one thing to defend the reputation of Hoboken as an inclusive city, [but] it is quite another to take action without all of the facts and to willingly and knowingly deny a taxpayer his 1st Amendment rights to free speech.”
Several of Ruggiero’s friends, including Ruben Gonzalez, spoke in his favor.
Noel Cruz, a local teacher, essentially called the council hypocrites for trying to sanction someone for something everyone has been guilty of at one time or another.
“I don’t think anyone on this panel can say they have not had a negative thought about someone. Someone cuts you off, ‘Oh, what an [expletive]. Oh, what a [racial slur]. We do it! We do it! I have to admit,” Cruz stated.
“And don’t say that some of you don’t have those thoughts, because if you’re saying that you don’t, you’re lying to yourself.”
Even so, Eytan Stern Weber said Hoboken business owners should be held to a higher standard than other private citizens.
“We’re not talking about him as a citizen, we’re talking about him as a business owner.
The council then spoke at length before their vote, with Councilman-at-Large David Mello stating that he didn’t feel comfortable voting on such a measure until Ruggiero had due process in the courts, while 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher expressed concerns echoing what Wefer said – that vague language regarding setting a standard for other business owners and members of the public should be removed.
James Lisa, Ruggiero’s attorney in the matter, addressed the governing body to provide clarity in the situation.
“That one line, I have no problem removing it. We took this step because he does face criminal charges. In any event he were convicted of criminal charges, he would be facing automatic revocation of his license,” Lisa explained.
“We voluntarily resolved it so that he doesn’t face that revocation: regardless of what the outcome is. And quite frankly, I know counsel is shaking his head, but the fact is, in the law, there’s a thing called a conditional dismissal – which he’s eligible for. He can plead guilt to this thing, enter the program and this case will ultimately be dismissed.”
Eventually, the council passed an amended resolution by a vote of 7-2, with Council President Jen Giattino and Mello voting no.