NEW YORK -- Tens of thousands of revelers gathered in Brooklyn to celebrate Caribbean culture Monday at the West Indian American Day Parade, as bright beaded costumes and feather headdresses also provided a lively backdrop for New York City politicking.
With elections around the corner, politicians took advantage of the festivities to push their candidacies. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, running for a third term after laws were changed to allow it, led the parade with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was grand marshal and donned a blue sash. The retired four-star U.S. Army general endorsed the mayor's re-election bid at a news conference before the parade.
"I hope he'll win," said Powell, a native New Yorker of Jamaican descent.
The mayor, wearing a bright pink sweater, cut the ribbon to officially kick off the celebration. The annual parade takes place on Labor Day but is modeled on traditional pre-Lenten Carnival festivities.
City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., a Democratic mayoral candidate, marched behind with Gov. David Paterson, with supporters chanting "No third term."
Other candidates for city council and public advocate handed out fliers and shook hands with spectators who waved the flags of a dozen nations as they waited for the parade to move slowly down Eastern Parkway from Crown Heights to Grand Army Plaza.
"There are more and more dignitaries," said Lenny Smith, who comes to the party every year to celebrate his Jamaican heritage. "I think many of us would like to see the costumes."
Brooklyn's borough president, Marty Markowitz, rode on a float thumping with music. "Brooklyn! The Caribbean capital of the U.S.!" he yelled to the cheering crowd.
More than 600,000 of West Indian origin live in the city, according to census estimates.
Revelers decked out in sequins, glitter and feathers danced to music from competing sound systems as the crowds cheered.
Nayadez Week wore a yellow bikini adorned in black beads and a yellow feather headdress with black sequins, and said she felt like a queen in her outfit. "I love how it fits me," she said, also wearing a "Miss Panama, US" sash.
The thick smell of grilled meats and curry wafted from the food stalls lining the parade route. Vendors hawked West Indian specialties like jerk chicken, curried goat and ox tail. There were red velvet cakes, sorrel tea, pig's feet and coconuts hacked in half.
While there was no official crowd estimate, the parade is one of the largest in the city.
In previous years, the event has been marred by tragedy. In 1999, two children died when they were pinned between floats, and hours later a man was run over by a float and killed. In 2005, a man was shot to death.
There were no immediate reports of violence Monday.