CHICAGO, March 16 -- City officials tried to use their annual St. Patrick's Day parade Saturday to pay tribute to the police and firefighters of New York who were involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
But the metal detectors set up alongside the parade route and the helicopters flying overhead quickly made it clear that President Bush, the first sitting president to take part in the festivities, was the dominant presence.
Chicago's downtown parade has become a Windy City tradition since it was first held in 1956, particularly noted for the way in which city Democratic politicians of Irish descent used the event to mug for public attention.
But Republican Bush of Texas was the focal point for parade spectators this time.
"I think it's very special that our president would show respect for our parade," said Dorothy DeBoer of Chicago. "It's a tribute to the president and to Mayor (Richard M.) Daley. It's wonderful he would come to our city."
Many of the thousands of parade-watchers along Columbus Drive could be seen waving signs with slogans such as, "Welcome President Bush. We Are Proud Americans."
Some spectators even tried to get a chant of "U-S-A" going as Bush passed.
For his part, Bush walked along the parade route for a few blocks, with his presidential limousine driving at his side.
Bush looked at the crowd with a silly grin on his face, waving his arms wildly and blowing kisses to some of the spectators while they cheered.
Off to his side, Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan could be seen with a stern look on his face while Democrat Daley stood about five feet away, surveying the crowd with the same look on his face that Secret Service agents had as they scanned the crowd for any potential attackers.
None could be found.
"You don't get to see a president everyday," said Gerri Shanahan of Frankfort, Ill. "It's nice to see Democrats accept a Republican, to see them get along."
Agreeing was parade Queen Megan Eileen Connelly, who said, "It was a great thrill this morning" to meet Bush.
Other politicians, including several of the Democrat and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Illinois governor in Tuesday's statewide primaries, were kept about 150 feet further behind the Bush-Ryan-Daley trio.
Bush only marched for about half the parade route before he and Daley ultimately climbed into the presidential automobile and headed for a private lunch at Gibson's, a pricey steakhouse in the Rush Street entertainment district.
Secret Service officials noted they were only able to set up metal detectors along the southern portion of the parade route, making it impossible to ensure that parade watchers along the northern half of the route were free of weapons.
Along the southern half, people were required to submit their bags to a search and several were forced to relinquish glass bottles of soda and other beverages because of the risk they could be used as weapons.
Officially, this year's parade was a tribute to those who were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Michael Judge, a Catholic priest and New York fire chaplain who was the first official casualty on Sept. 11, was the parade's honorary grand marshal.
New York firefighters marched in his place and a moment of silence was held shortly after noon CDT.
But the parade was far from somber. Kelly green was the color of the day, along with anything decorated with shamrocks or leprechauns.
"Let's not talk about terrorists or politics," Chicagoan Frank Shaughnessy said. "Let's talk about something important: Guinness vs. Bass."
In fact, about the only non-Irish aspect of the parade was the route. Part of the Columbus Drive parade route was renamed for Frank Annunzio, the long-time Chicago congressman of Italian descent.
Not that everyone would hold that against him.
"Today, it's O'Annunzio," quipped WLS-AM reporter Steve Scott. Content: 10011000