(ABOVE: via facebook)
Joseph Ruggiero, the man who was filmed shouting racial epithets in a disagreement over a parking space on Washington Street, was once an employee of the Hoboken Parking Utility—until he was dismissed by the City of Hoboken.
“Mr. Ruggiero worked for the City of Hoboken and was terminated in 2013,” City spokesman Juan Melli told hMAG. “Ultimately, the Administrative Court and Civil Service Commission upheld the City’s termination and made a final ruling on the matter in 2015.”
Ruggiero was initially terminated for “absence without permission for five consecutive days.” Furthermore, hMAG has exclusive information regarding an incident where Ruggiero was allegedly involved in a verbal altercation over a parking space and claimed he was a Hoboken Police officer—at one point flashing his Hoboken Parking Utility badge at a city resident. Ruggiero failed to appear at the hearings on that matter, and ultimately his termination was upheld.
“Regarding the reported badge incidents, the City required Mr. Ruggiero to return his HPU badge,” says Melli. “HPU ended the practice of issuing badges to employees in early 2013.”
In a statement issued on Monday, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said, “The hate speech by the Vape Van owner is reprehensible and does not represent Hoboken’s diverse and inclusive community. The Hoboken Police Department is investigating this incident.” She added, “In addition to this being extremely offensive hate speech, as a vendor licensed by the City of Hoboken, they are obligated to follow all of our rules and regulations, and clearly they have not. Therefore, I am asking the City Council to revoke their vendor license.”
Councilmen Ravinder Bhalla and Ruben Ramos, Jr. issued a joint statement, echoing the Mayor’s dismay over the incident. “As proud sons of immigrants, we write to express our complete disgust with the hate incident involving the owner of the Vape Van vendor truck in Hoboken, New Jersey. This conduct has no place in Hoboken. This individual’s actions do not reflect the views of businesses or residents in Hoboken. Hoboken is a city of immigrants and we take great pride in this tradition.”
On December 7, 2016 the Hoboken City Council adopted a Resolution “creating a community that is free of bias and prejudice,” and “pursuing a policy agenda that affirms . . . that those targeted on the basis of race, religion or immigration status can turn to government without fear of recrimination.” With this in mind, the actions on display in the incident involving Ruggiero have given the City Council grounds to review his license to do business in the city of Hoboken.
Meanwhile, Hoboken residents are wondering how a business like the “Vape Van” ever got a license to operate here in the first place.
“After reviewing the Vape Van incident, the City is now implementing a system to ensure that background checks are completed on all mobile vendors going forward,” says Melli. “A background check was not completed on the Vape Van or any other mobile vendor, but his employment record would not have appeared on a criminal background check and would not have been considered as a factor in the license approval process.”