Children twirled pizza dough in the air, the cast of a musical about Pinocchio performed skits and tens of thousands of spectators celebrated their Italian American heritage along both sides of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue for the annual Columbus Day Parade on Monday.
Adding to the spectacle of 35,000 marchers and more than 100 bands and floats awash in the red, white and green of the Italian flag was a political drama involving Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate for governor marching in the parade who had stoked anger with his recent comments attacking gays.
Shortly after the parade began, Paladino said he abhorred anti-gay violence and supported all rights for gays except for one.
"I am not homophobic," Paladino said as he tried to march up Fifth Avenue while surrounded by reporters and television crews. "I believe in all gay rights unequivocally, no question whatsoever, except for marriage."
Paladino's remarks found both support and criticism from spectators.
"I think what he said was disgusting," said Susan Smith of Long Island. "I can't believe someone who wants to be the governor of New York in 2010 would say something like that. It's unacceptable."
John Vaccaro, of Newark, N.J., said he believed Paladino had "a right to his opinion."
"I don't see anything wrong with what he said," Vaccaro said. "I'm sure a lot of people agree with him."
The city's St. Patrick's Day parade has long banned gay and lesbian groups from marching under their own banners, but the Columbus Day Parade's chairman said that wasn't the case with his event.
"We don't have an issue with gays," Lawrence Auriana said, adding that he didn't know of any gay Italian-American groups affiliated with his parade. "They've been with us since Roman times."
CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo served as grand marshal of the event, and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band led the parade, followed by more than a dozen high school marching bands and a band from the Italian military police. Festival floats featured various scenes from throughout Italy.
Republican Joe DioGuardi, who is challenging Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand for her U.S. Senate seat, rode his 1965 blue convertible Cadillac in the parade.