Candidates for several local offices glad-handed members of an enthusiastic yet small crowd that turned out for the event, prompting at least one parade-goer to ask afterward whether changes may be warranted.
Paul Verdini, the president of the Armed Forces Committee of Worcester County, vice commander of Paxton American Legion Post 306, president of the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center and president of the 313th Air National Guardsman Retirees was the grand marshal for the 2018 parade.
“I believe it’s time to take a look at this parade and make it an international parade,” Philip P. Palmieri, who represented the district on the City Council for 14 years until 2015, said Sunday afternoon.
However, Judy Verdini, longtime chairwoman of the parade, said afterward that’s not something she’d consider.
“It’s the Columbus Day Parade. It’s going to stay that way,” said Ms. Verdini. She agreed that turnout Sunday – which featured unseasonably warm weather – was low, but said she believes many folks choose to watch the parade on Charter TV3.
The 24th annual affair kicked off at 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of Aitchison and Shrewsbury streets. High school marching bands from Worcester, Douglas and Southbridge had spectators tapping their toes, while an array of civic groups waved to friends in the crowd.
“This ain’t 70 (degrees),” one warm spectator, Deb Peters of Worcester, remarked as the sun emerged from clouds that had hung around for much of the morning.
Ms. Peters said she hadn’t been to the parade in a few years, but turned out Sunday because her granddaughters, Zada Gonzalez and Eva Peters, were on a float for Jo Ann Warren Dance Studio.
As the parade reached the Flying Rhino, whose outside deck was about half full of patrons, members of the South High Community School Band received applause for a rendition of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
“This is great (weather),” said Ed Desmond, a longtime city resident who watches the parade each year with his wife, Anne.
“If lost return to Anne,” read the man’s red T-shirt shirt. “I am Anne,” read the red T-shirt worn by his bride of 38 years.
The Desmonds were among many who watched as Grand Marshal Paul M. Verdini waved from atop a horse-drawn wagon.
“It was fantastic,” Mr. Verdini, a prolific area volunteer who serves as president of the Worcester County Armed Forces Committee, among other local groups, said afterward.
Political marchers were abundant Sunday. Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., U.S. Rep James P. McGovern, D-Worcester and Mayor Joseph M. Petty marched together, along with Dr. Charles Steinberg, president of the Worcester Red Sox.
Blake J. Rubin, who is challenging Mr. Early for Worcester district attorney, also marched in the parade. His slogan, “Justice – Not Politics” was featured prominently on his trailer, and repeated often over a campaign megaphone.
Geoff Diehl, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, also had a trailer at the event; however, he was not at the parade because he was attending other events.
Unlike many years, bars up and down the street were open Sunday, as a Taste of Shrewsbury Street event was held for the first time outside the normal June date.
Marc Trotto, a city Department of Public Works employee, was critical of the parade organizers as he enjoyed a drink with friends.
“I want the Irish parade committee to take over our parade,” he said after calling a reporter over to his table. Mr. Trotto said the annual event isn’t anything like it used to be.
“This is sad for the Italians in the city,” he said, noting that the St. Patrick’s Parade is a much larger event.
St. Patrick’s Day is generally a more widely celebrated holiday than Columbus Day across the country. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2016 estimated that 26,810 people claim Irish heritage in Worcester, while 19,329 people claim Italian heritage.
Asked for his opinion, John Piccolo, longtime owner of Piccolo’s at 157 Shrewsbury St., said it would be nice for the Columbus Day Parade to be a larger event, though he noted the neighborhood has changed much over the years.
“The neighborhood’s not Italian anymore,” he said, as anyone can tell by walking the street and looking at what is sold in local markets.
Mr. Palmieri agreed, and said it’s time the organizers consider changing the parade to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood and the city.
“An international parade would give the opportunity for others to become involved,” Mr. Palmieri said, and could become a much larger event drawing bigger crowds.
But Ms. Verdini said, without hesitation, that such a parade would need to be separate from the parade her volunteers put much of their time into every year.
“(People) get critical, but they don’t see what happens behind the scenes,” she said. “All these people do all this work – if you interview them, you’ll find out what the parade is all about.
Ms. Verdini said she believes the Shrewsbury Street business community could be more supportive of the parade, but that efforts to engender such support have not proved successful.
“I’m very proud of all the people that bring the parade down the street,” she said, and would welcome help from anyone interested in working with her in the future.
The parade’s Internal Revenue Service Form 990, which nonprofits must file yearly, shows that the parade committee spent $18,396 in 2017 and had $17,247 in revenue. It ended the year with net assets of $3,048.