By Brittany Kriegstein
From New York Daily News
NEW YORK—The city’s anonymous pandemic heroes, after toiling in the COVID-19 darkness for 16 months, marched Wednesday along a sun-splashed Broadway as fellow New Yorkers cheered their ceaseless courage and commitment.
The Canyon of Heroes, typically reserved for the likes of Yankees star Derek Jeter, South African leader Nelson Mandela and astronaut John Glenn, instead paid homage to the efforts of night-shift nurses, volunteer charity workers, teachers, transportation employees, police officers, firefighters and others during the long journey that began with the arrival of coronavirus in March 2020.
“This is not even a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Kathleen Liggio, 63 of the city Medical Examiner’s Office. “Many people don’t (ever) see this. When you think of all the greats that have been through the Canyon of Heroes, this is unbelievable, really.”
The grand marshal was Sandra Lindsay, director of nursing at Northwell Health in Queens and the first U.S. recipient of a COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14. She rode in a vintage convertible at the head of the parade, waving at folks lined up along the parade route.
“Thank you, New York!” she shouted while waving at the crowd on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan. And the crowd responded in kind: “Thank you!”
Mayor de Blasio traveled near the front of the parade on a hospital workers float, while former NYPD Capt. Eric Adams—the Brooklyn borough president and Democratic nominee to replace the incumbent—marched and greeted the honorees.
GOP nominee Curtis Sliwa was also in attendance as the NYPD band played some appropriate marching tunes: “God Bless America” and “Stand by Me.”
Some of those lining the parade route represented essential workers who couldn’t get the day off.
“I’m here for all my nurse friends, and those who had to go to work when no one else was,” said attendee Edith Rosales.
Denise Palmer of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East recalled following in the career footsteps of her mother.
“My mom has worked for 30 years,” said Palmer, a five-year union veteran. “They are the real heroes, they were on the front lines. We are here to celebrate and just be grateful.”
But the day was not without contention, as an assortment of first responders—including the FDNY union—announced they would not join in the event recognizing their efforts. District Council 37, representing 150,000 front-line workers, said the majority of its membership would boycott, as did members of the FDNY’s EMS paramedics and emergency medical technicians union.
A few random firefighters turned out despite the boycott.
A pair of protesters toted “PAY EMS” signs, referring to an ongoing dispute where those city workers remained on the job without contracts since 2018 while working for a starting salary of $35,000. And Transit Workers Union members marched with signs asking for hazard pay as they remembered their colleagues lost during the pandemic.
The parade kicked off on a sweltering morning with temperatures climbing toward 90 degrees, with 14 floats and 10 bands participating in the first such parade since the U.S. Women’s soccer team was honored in 2019 for its victory in the World Cup.
The boycotts failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Michelle Medina, who turned out with two fellow respiratory therapists from Mt. Sinai Hospital.
“We are out here celebrating ourselves,” she said. “It took a village, a team to be here today and we are just here to appreciate everyone and celebrate everyone who has been on this team.”
The marchers included a contingent of funeral directors, who went through an unprecedented stretch where the virus claimed the lives of more than 33,000 New Yorkers.
“It was overwhelming,” said John Heyer, 38, of the family-run Scotto & Heyer Funeral Directors in Brooklyn. “Never seen anything like this. We went from doing 10 funerals a week to doing 15 a day. … It’s a sigh of relief. Our business is back to normal, which is a good thing.”
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