By Jonathan Lemire
The city's West Indian Day Parade rolled through the streets on Monday with politics in the air and a child's death on marchers' minds.
Big crowds gathered along one of Brooklyn's busiest streets to watch the annual parade, the largest in the city. The festivities were raucous, highlighted by sweat-soaked elected officials furiously pressing the flesh with crowds just a little more than a week before Primary Day.
But the celebrations were somewhat tempered by the shooting death of a 1-year-old boy in his stroller blocks from the parade's start. The boy, Antiq Hennis, was struck in the head Sunday night by a bullet meant for his father, said police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who marched at the front of the parade, said "today, we are all grieving." And mayoral candidate John Liu, the city comptroller, called for a moment of silence during the dignitary-filled breakfast before the parade kicked off along Eastern Parkway.
The parade was a lively celebration of Caribbean culture, featuring outlandish costumes, indigenous foods, loud music and scores of dancers who gyrated incessantly despite oppressive humidity and occasional rain showers.
For the mayoral candidates, the event provided one of the last big stages before the Sept. 10 primary. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who's leading the Democratic polls, looked the part of the front-runner, dancing his way down long stretches of the street with his family and sign-toting supporters.
His wife, Chirlane McCray, who's of Caribbean descent, was cheered loudly by the crowd, but the biggest applause may have been saved for their 15-year-old son, Dante, who's the star of several of the candidate's campaign commercials.
"We want Dante!" pockets of the crowd cried, prompting the Afro-sporting teen to jog to the barricades at the parade's edge and shake hands.
The two candidates likely jockeying for the second spot in a runoff alongside de Blasio brought out high-powered surrogates to work the crowd.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn hopped on a float with retiring Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was cheered loudly as he marched in his 13th West Indian Day Parade. And ex-comptroller Bill Thompson walked alongside a large contingent from the influential teachers union, which endorsed him this summer.
Some of the day's largest cheers were reserved for a candidate who appears to have fallen out of the running. Former congressman Anthony Weiner, who was leading the race until the fallout from his latest sexting scandal knocked him to a distant fourth, was stationed atop of his own float, complete with balloons, disc jockey and dancers.
Weiner frequently grabbed a microphone to exhort the crowd, and every few blocks he hopped down to the street to shake hands.
Republican Joe Lhota and independent candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr. also marched, as did the two comptroller candidates vying for the Democratic nomination: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and ex-governor Eliot Spitzer.
Spitzer and Stringer, who have waged an increasingly contentious campaign, spent much of the pre-parade breakfast within a few feet of each other but appeared not to interact.
There was a heavy police presence along the parade route, which has been the site of violence in recent years. Two people were fatally stabbed at the parade last year, and a man was shot to death in 2011.
More than a million people were expected to watch the parade, organizers said.