NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of people lined Manhattan's Fifth Avenue on Monday for the annual Columbus Day parade, one of the world's largest celebrations of Italian-American heritage and culture.
The parade, which is organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, drew scores of people throughout the region who wanted to celebrate their Italian roots.
"I'm Italian and this is one of my favorite days of the year," said Pino Mudaro, 62, who was born in Milan and moved to New York City in 1974. "I am here with my granddaughter who is half-Italian, half-Irish, but today, she is all Italian!"
The red, white and green Italian flag was ubiquitous among the marchers, which included several marching bands and Italian civic groups. The first parade was held in Manhattan in 1929, and some of the music and costumes have not changed much over the generations. But other floats had far more modern touches, including pulsing sound systems that blared a range of music, including a disco version of "Sweet Caroline" and even some Christmas carols.
"It's a wonderful way to celebrate Italian heritage and the immigrants who came to the U.S. and worked so hard," said marcher Theresa Buell.
And, since the parade falls less than a month before Election Day, it is also a major political showcase for politicians looking to take advantage of the big stage to reach undecided voters.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican rival, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, share an Italian heritage and were received politely by the crowd. On Monday, the Astorino campaign, which is trailing badly in the polls, distributed a fundraising letter from the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, in which Romney calls Cuomo a "typical corrupt New York politician."
Cuomo dismissed the criticism, pointing to President Barack Obama's overwhelming victory over Romney in New York two years ago.
"New Yorkers have already commented on Mitt Romney and made it abundantly clear that his theories have been rejected in the state," Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who frequently touts his Italian heritage, often jogged to the barricades lining the parade route to shake hands and take photos with onlookers. But he was far less enthusiastic when asked again by reporters about top mayoral aide Rachel Noerdlinger, who has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for several key omissions on her background checks.
A Department of Investigation probe found that she didn't disclose she was living with her boyfriend, a convicted felon, but it didn't recommend discipline. But the story has stayed alive in the city's newspapers, including a front page of The New York Post with the headline "DeNial: Mayor Bill defiantly ignored a City Hall gone rotten."
"I think we've talked enough about this," said de Blasio in a brief gaggle after the parade. "It's time to move forward."