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Puerto Rican Day Parade Fills City Streets With Pride

Mayoral Candidates Court The Puerto Rican Vote

Puerto Rican Day Parade Fills City Streets With Pride


June 11, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

After last year's post-parade violence, more than 6,000 police officers were at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday, an event that brought calls for an end to United States bombing of the island of Vieques.

[Dith Pran/The New York Times]


A river of faces and banners, rippling. A tumult of salsa and sequined dancers. Delegations from Mayagüez, Ponce and San Juan. White lapel ribbons to remember bombed Vieques. And everywhere the red, white and blue flags of Puerto Rico – on T- shirts, sweatbands, head wraps, cheeks, even polished fingernails.

It was the Puerto Rican Day Parade, in its 44th year one of New York City's largest events, and it swept up Fifth Avenue yesterday in a display of ethnic pride and surging political power that drew an estimated two million enthusiastic spectators and was watched over by 6,000 police officers.

The extraordinary police presence had been assigned to deter any recurrence of the violence that followed last year's parade – a series of attacks in Central Park in which 50 women were doused with beer, had clothing torn off and were groped while a few officers failed to answer pleas for help.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue for today's National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
[New York Times]

But nothing as grave happened yesterday during the parade. There were only five arrests for serious offenses; alcohol and marijuana use was not apparent. The only counterpoint to the festive mood was a protest of the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a target range.

In the evening, however, the police said, revelers returning from the parade caused a melee in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. People threw bottles at officers, striking at least two and causing minor injuries; surrounded a city bus, blocking its way; and fought with each other. Several dozen people were arrested on charges including disorderly conduct and drinking in public, the police said.

Earlier, on a sumptuous spring afternoon, about 100,000 marchers, with 90 floats and scores of bands and dancing troupes, sauntered up the avenue from 44th to 86th Street, from the skyscrapers of Midtown to Central Park, in a six-hour, 42-block celebration of Puerto Rican heritage.

Along the way turned a kaleidoscope of impressions – bands exploding in the sunlight; marchers from 32 states and many towns in Puerto Rico in the shadows of a serrated skyline; politicians in sunglasses; crowds cheering, laughing, singing, dancing, as if they, too, were part of the parade; and above it all, Latin music rumbling out over the city like summer thunder.

The parade, expanded six years ago from a city to a national affair that draws Puerto Ricans from outside New York and other Hispanic groups as well, was graced with temperatures in the mid-80's and high wispy clouds in a liquid blue sky. The air was thick with pride.

"Viva Puerto Rico!" Marc Anthony, the East Harlem native who has become the national sensation of salsa, shouted above the din as he stepped out of a red convertible and was mobbed by shrieking, adoring fans. Clad in a white suit and sunglasses, draped in a sash proclaiming him "International Grand Marshal," waving a Puerto Rican flag, blowing kisses, he pronounced the day overwhelming.

Jose Flores was among two million spectators at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
[Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times]

Puerto Rico's first female governor, Sila M. Calderón, was joined by officials from dozens of communities. Miss Universe, Denise M. Quinones, wore a glittering tiara, and draped over a line of floats and convertibles were more beauty queens than one could count. The World Boxing Association heavyweight champion, John Ruiz, shared a float with the promoter Don King. The fighter Felix Trinidad strode nearby.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Gov. George E. Pataki, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, candidates for mayor and almost every New York politician worthy of the name was there, shaking hands, waving flags, pausing to give light- patter interviews about the greatness of the parade, the weather and the people of Puerto Rico.

The only dissent was over Vieques. Many marchers and spectators wore looped white ribbons to protest the Navy's continued use of the island for bomb target practice, which began in 1941. Thousands also carried signs proclaiming "Paz Para Vieques" – Peace for Vieques. But unlike last year, when the whole parade was dedicated to Vieques and 2,000 protesters joined the march, only 50 Vieques protesters were authorized to participate yesterday.

Besides denouncing the bombing, they demanded the release of the Rev. Al Sharpton, Assemblyman José Rivera, Councilman Adolfo Carrión Jr. and Roberto Ramirez, the Bronx Democratic chairman, who were arrested on Vieques last month and remain in federal custody in Brooklyn pending appeals. Mr. Sharpton is serving 90 days and the others 40 each, sentences many protesters called too harsh.

While Vieques was the vocal issue, organizers were far more concerned about security and the parade's tarnished image as a result of last year's violence, which occurred away from the parade route and hours after the march ended. Men in the park attacked some 50 women, dousing them with beer, ripping off clothing and groping them. Of 30 men charged, 18 pleaded guilty or were convicted and were given sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison. The others were acquitted or freed with charges dismissed. A dozen women sued the city for $960 million last week, saying they were victims in the attack and charging that the police had ignored pleas for help. Two officers who failed to aid women were docked vacation days, and the senior officer who oversaw the parade retired early.

The police yesterday deployed 6,000 officers, 1,500 more than last year, and the results were striking.

Five people were arrested on relatively serious allegations. One was charged with assaulting a police officer, one with driving a stolen motorcycle and three with sexual abuse after women said their buttocks had been touched. Four other women made similar complaints, but no arrests were made.

Miss Universe Denise Quinones of Puerto Rico returns waves from the crowd at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
[Bolivar Arellano]

There were six arrests for disorderly conduct, one for harassment and 13 for operating motorcycles with suspended licenses. The police said 63 motorcycles were seized, most for crossing the parade route improperly, and more than 140 summonses were issued to motorcyclists for various traffic violations.

Last year coolers full of beer were openly consumed, along with miniature bottles of liquor, and marijuana use was common, while officers seemed unaware or unwilling to interfere. Yesterday, the police seemed ubiquitous – at intersections, in subways and in the park – and they checked bags and coolers. As a result, almost no public drinking or marijuana use was apparent.

And in contrast to last year's wolf- pack behavior, many young men merely gawked at women. Suzette Raguet, for one, appreciated it. "Unfortunately, last year was a disgrace to our people; a few bad apples made us look bad," the 28-year-old Bronx woman said. Sporting the Puerto Rican flag on her tank top, necklace and bandana, she added, "We're here to celebrate our heritage."


At Parade, Mayoral Candidates Court the Puerto Rican Vote


June 11, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

The six major candidates for mayor of New York paid tribute to the rising political power of Hispanic voters yesterday, marching for two miles in the noontime heat in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. They bounced to salsa music, rallied potential supporters in Spanish and demanded an end to United States military bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

In a reminder of just how much political demographics are changing in New York, there were two Puerto Rican mayoral candidates walking up Fifth Avenue this year: Fernando Ferrer, one of four major Democrats in the race, and Herman Badillo, a Republican.

A bevy of beautiful dancers in frilly dresses entertains the crowd along Fifth Avenue yesterday.

[NYP: Tamara Beckwith]

But this was clearly Mr. Ferrer's day. While Mr. Badillo, who is making his fourth bid for mayor, drew a scattering of applause as he marched, Mr. Ferrer stirred swells of excitement along the parade route among onlookers, lined up five deep at some points. They broke into squeals and shouts of "Ese él!" – "He's the one" – as they caught sight of the Bronx borough president heading up the avenue.

Mr. Ferrer, whose campaign has been going through some rough times recently, appeared invigorated by the reception. He sprinted back and forth across the street, kissing cheeks, grabbing at hands and making the most of this very visible display of one of the central reasons that his candidacy is seen as so potentially potent.

"He is our candidate," said Jose Perez, 58, a caseworker from Queens. "The Puerto Ricans are going to vote for him."

Still, the other candidates made clear that they were not about to cede this segment of voters – Hispanics make up 24.7 percent of the city's voting-age population, according to the latest census data – to the attempt by Mr. Ferrer or Mr. Badillo to become the city's first Puerto Rican mayor. They were all there, from Peter F. Vallone, the Democratic City Council speaker, who like Mr. Ferrer wore a white embroidered shirt called a guayabera, to the newest entry in the field, Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican who carried a large Puerto Rican flag, which he waved back and forth.

"Look, it's a huge community and it's very important in the mayoral race," said Alan G. Hevesi, the Democratic city comptroller, who characteristically stuck to a crisp blue shirt and knotted red tie as he walked the sweltering route. "But no one will have an advantage marching today because everybody is marching and we're all on the same place on human rights issues."

Another Democrat, Mark Green, the city's public advocate, said: "The data indicates that Freddie Ferrer is going to get the bulk of that vote. But I'm not going to surrender one vote in any group – and I am going to do very well in those communities."

In truth, the city's Hispanic population is far more complex than it was when the first Puerto Rican Day parade stepped off in East Harlem in 1958, with Mr. Badillo in its ranks. Now, an estimated 43 percent of the registered Hispanic voters in New York come from places other than Puerto Rico, and they hold differing and often competing views.

The appearance of all these candidates, at regular intervals along the 42-block parade route, lent a serious tone to what is typically a day of exuberance and celebration. And the opportunity for politics went beyond the Democratic mayoral primary that will take place on Sept. 11.

For instance, Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican who is facing a race for re-election next year, marched with the mayor of Vieques, Damaso Serrano. That maneuver all but guaranteed him a hearty welcome, and was the latest evidence of the attention he is paying to winning support from Hispanics in what is shaping up as a potentially difficult contest for him next year.

A few steps away, Edward I. Koch, the former mayor, marched carrying a huge picture of the Rev. Al Sharpton, to protest Mr. Sharpton's jailing on trespassing charges for protesting in Vieques. Even Mr. Koch had to smile at the unlikely tableau he presented, as he championed a man who had once been his nemesis.

Mr. Badillo marched the route twice, the first time with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Although Mr. Giuliani won about 50 percent of the city's Hispanic vote both times he was elected, his reception yesterday was far from warm, notwithstanding Mr. Badillo's presence at his side. There were boos and even crude insults, at times echoing much louder than the sporadic cheers.

"Giuliani go home," some of the spectators yelled; "Giuliani stinks," others chanted. Along the route, onlookers held up printed T-shirts that had Mr. Giuliani's name next to an obscenity. Mr. Hevesi quickly moved away as one of those T-shirts was displayed next to him as he shook hands.

Mr. Giuliani did his best to appear upbeat, waving his arms and holding his thumbs up. "Pure enthusiasm, love, joy," Mr. Giuliani said of the reception. "It is absolutely terrific, a great celebration of the Puerto Rican contribution to the city of New York."

But unlike his practice in most parades, Mr. Giuliani rarely dashed to the barricades to greet spectators.

After Mr. Badillo marched with Mr. Giuliani, as has been his custom for eight years, he marched a second time with residents of the Puerto Rican village where he lived until he was 11. In an interview before the march, Mr. Badillo noted Mr. Ferrer's recent difficulties, which came about during the fellow Puerto Rican's so-far-unfulfilled attempt to win Mr. Sharpton's endorsement.

"This Sharpton thing is killing him," Mr. Badillo said. "The more Sharpton talks about helping him, the more Freddy goes down in the polls. It's a sad story."

Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged a report in Time magazine that said John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, might fly in to campaign for Mr. Bloomberg. "I would be thrilled to have his support," Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Bloomberg, who had marched with the mayor during Memorial Day parades, this time marched with Mr. Pataki. His supporters wore "Bloomberg for Mayor" T-shirts that were written in Spanish, although the candidate, who is learning Spanish, stuck to English, even in his interviews with Spanish-language media outlets.

Mr. Bloomberg said there was no strategic thinking involved in his decision to march with Mr. Pataki rather than Mr. Giuliani. "I don't know if he was booed or not," he said. "The mayor has done a great job in this city, and nobody should boo him."

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