Standing outside his house and looking up at the American flag, Joe Maffia recalled his days as a student at Resurrection School, where his teachers stressed the importance of patriotism. (Photo: Paula Katinas)
GERRITSEN BEACH — Being a patriotic American almost cost Joe Maffia a pretty penny.
Maffia was slapped with violations and a potential $500 fine by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). The violations? He was flying two flags — an American flag and an anti-Joe Biden flag — from the flagpole on the front lawn of his Gerritsen Beach house.
The anti-Biden flag contained the “F” word, but after Maffia replaced that flag with one that read “Let’s Go Brandon,” the anti-Biden slogan popular with the president’s opponents, he still found himself in hot water. He said DOB ordered him to remove both that flag as well as the American flag.
Maffia, citing his First Amendment rights, flatly refused to take them down. As a result, he was informed that he could face a $500 fine for violating the city’s rules against illegal signs in residential districts.
After Currents News contacted DOB, the agency put up the white flag and surrendered, admitting that the violations were issued in error and rescinded both.
But that admission came only after Maffia went through a great deal of angst wondering and worrying about why he was being targeted by the city. And DOB’s mea culpa came after inspectors were dispatched to his house three separate times.
“It’s insane. We’re supposed to have freedom of expression in this country,” said Maffia, a retired plumber who has lived in Gerritsen Beach for 25 years and is a parishioner of Resurrection Church.
Maffia’s troubles began back in 2021 with a 311 call. Someone — he doesn’t know who — called 311 to file a complaint about the profanity on his anti-Biden flag.
In July of 2022, DOB, which had been notified of the 311 call, dispatched an inspector to his home. The inspector issued a violation and told him to remove the “F” word flag, giving him until October of that year to comply.
Maffia replaced the flag with the “Let’s Go Brandon” flag, which he flew underneath the Stars and Stripes on his flagpole.
Maffia thought that would be the end of his dealings with DOB. However, he was wrong.
He heard nothing all throughout 2023, but when 2024 arrived, so did a major headache. Another DOB inspector rang his doorbell on Jan. 18 but when he saw that Maffia had taken the “F” word flag down, he told him the case was closed.
The next day, yet another inspector came to Maffia’s house to issue a violation, telling him that a DOB supervisor had been made aware of the situation and wanted both flags removed, even the American flag.
“I wasn’t about to take the American flag down. People fought and died for that flag,” Maffia explained. “I told the city to go ahead and give me the fine.”
A friend who was outraged by the city’s treatment of Maffia wrote about it in a social media post that went viral.
Maffia’s neighbors rallied around the flagpole and him.
“I think it’s a disgrace to America and we should be allowed to have our American flags,” said Bernadette McNally, who lives next door and proudly flies the Stars and Stripes from a flagpole attached to her mailbox.
The fact that DOB sent inspectors to Maffia’s door three separate times didn’t sit well with Frank Lobasso, who lives across the street.
“We’ve wanted speed bumps on the street and to make it one-way for years now. But the flag situation gets taken care of pretty quickly,” he said.
The DOB explained that not only were the violations mistakes but that there actually is no city regulation that the agency enforces dealing with flag messages.
DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky sought to clarify the controversy over Maffia’s American flag. “When our inspector first issued an order to the property owner to remove the flag at this property in 2022, they were referring only to the previous flag. They were not referring to the other flag on the pole,” he said.
“However that order to remove the flag with profanity, and the subsequent violation issued last week, were both issued in error and are being withdrawn,” he added, adding that DOB called Maffia on the phone to let him know.
Meanwhile, Maffia is keeping both flags up. And he isn’t changing his political views. He still isn’t a fan of President Joe Biden.