Columbus Day Parade Celebrates Italian Heritage

The Columbus Day Parade was led by a loud, visible show of the city's police force — motorcycles with sirens blaring as they performed zigzag turns and quick circles to demonstrate their agility.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg waved an Italian flag Monday as he and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly led dozens of New York Police Department motorcycles and cruisers up Fifth Avenue. Behind them was a more festive spectacle, with marching bands and floats awash in the red, white and green of the Italian flag. "American Idol" star Pia Toscano performed from one float.

But the crowd of tens of thousands that lined the parade route was thinner than in other years — only two or three deep at stretches. In previous years, hundreds of thousands watched.

"It's very sad — there's hardly anybody here," said Roberto DeFilippi, wearing a T-shirt touting Italy's 2006 World Cup soccer championship.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an Italian-American who walked in the parade several blocks behind the mayor and police commissioner, said the 67th-annual celebration gave spectators the chance to encounter Italians' "love of family, love of community and their love of this country."

Cuomo added: "And I think that's an important lesson for New Yorkers today."

Teresa Branca, of Mamaroneck, north of the city, attended the parade for the first time with her 11-year-old son, Francesco, who draped the banner of the 2002 Italian World Cup soccer team across an iron police barricade, facing the marchers.

"This is Columbus Day; it's for when he discovered America," Francesco said of Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer born in Italy. "But I don't remember when that was."

For his mother, it was "a chance to be among my people," she said in her native Italian.

Officers in uniforms marked "Counter Terrorism" walked the route along with hundreds of regular members of the police department. Police officials said the security was normal for parades these days.

The parade is organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to keep the Italian-American heritage alive. This year's grand marshal was philanthropist Joseph Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings.

Monday's march gave Hani Becker, an Israeli-born Brooklyn resident, an opportunity to get as close to all things Italian as she could — for now.

"But I want to actually visit Italy," said Becker, who brought her 3-year-old son, Noam. "He loves parades. And I like everything about Italians — the food, the music, the people."

Early Monday, New York's Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He and his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, then sat on a red carpet in front of the Fifth Avenue cathedral, greeting the politicians passing by, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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