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Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue

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JONATHAN LEMIRE | AP

NEW YORK (AP) — The city's Columbus Day Parade celebrated Italian-American history and acted as the unofficial kickoff to the final sprint of the mayoral campaign.

Marching bands, groups of police officers from Italy and floats featuring opera singers and men dressed in period costumes as Machiavelli greeted and entertained the crowd.

Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota waved to cheering supporters lining the parade route along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. The two never crossed paths but will square off Tuesday night for their first mayoral debate before the Nov. 5 general election.

De Blasio, the city's public advocate, has nearly a 50 percentage point lead in recent polls, and some of Monday's visuals reinforced his status as the front-runner in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 6-1 ratio.

Even before starting his march, he received a warm welcome from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed him last month. The two, colleagues in former President Bill Clinton's administration, repeatedly embraced as photographers circled them, angling for the best shot.

De Blasio, in front of a giant banner bearing his name, marched alongside comptroller candidate Scott Stringer and public advocate candidate Letitia James, Democrats who are heavy favorites to win their contests next month. Responding to cheers from the crowd, de Blasio frequently walked to the route barricades to shake hands, causing his group to fall far behind the rest of the parade's participants.

De Blasio spoke of his grandparents' immigration from Italy, noting they were able to improve their lot in the New World, and connected it to his call to combat income inequality.

"I think even those who are wealthy, even those who are on Wall Street know ... that if we don't create more opportunity, we won't be as strong a city as we should be," he said.

Lhota, a deputy in former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration, marched with a small group of campaign aides and supporters. Though he, too, received cheers from the crowd, he rarely stopped moving and completed his march ahead of schedule.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whom Lhota has praised repeatedly, flashed him a thumbs-up and said "hang in there" at the parade's end.

Lhota was appointed by Cuomo to run the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the governor frequently praises his work in the post. Lhota tried to drive a wedge between Cuomo and de Blasio on Monday.

"Bill de Blasio has put the governor in an awkward situation," he told reporters after marching. "Yes, they are Democrats, but the governor's positions on charter schools, on jobs, on job creation, about taxes and tax reductions are the complete opposite of Bill de Blasio's."

Cuomo said during the parade that he supported de Blasio "unequivocally."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who's leaving office at the end of the year after serving his third term, didn't interact with either of his would-be successors. He hasn't endorsed anyone in the race.

The 69th annual parade's grand marshal was Wall Street financier and philanthropist Joseph Perella.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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