Rick Lazio smiled and waved as he moved up Fifth Avenue Wednesday with a light, youthful bounce in his step. If he wasn't greeted like a rock star as he strode the St. Patrick's parade route uptown, at least the former Suffolk congressman found pockets of encouragement.
"Ya gotta win, Rick, ya gotta win!" a middle-aged guy barked from the sidewalk around 60th Street as Lazio moved past.
"I will with your help!" replied Lazio, who still seems the most likely GOP candidate for governor. There was more recognition and waving from some on the reviewing stand.
Along the way, Lazio was accompanied by an ebullient City Councilman Dan Halloran of Queens, who wore a kilt.
Lazio, who's been working the parade circuit all season, absorbed more exposure from the news cameras, fielding questions about Gov. David A. Paterson and delayed tax refunds and the annual protest of the event by gay-rights advocates.
Elsewhere on the route, Lazio's potential rival Steve Levy was testing a boundary. Aides held up a big banner saying "Steve Levy, Suffolk County Executive," but parade organizers ran up and asked him to refrain, citing a ban on political and campaign signs.
Two years ago, Levy and company were told the same thing at a St. Patrick's parade in East Islip. They put away the banner once asked - then held it aloft for much of the route, then removed it before passing the reviewing stand, as Newsday reported at the time.
Now the suspense is all about whether Democrat Levy will do what he must to try to pick up a new banner - belonging to Republicans, for the November race.
Behind the scenes, GOP proxies continued trading verbal fire - over Republican state chairman Ed Cox's willingness to consider allowing Levy to carry that party banner. By now this prompts the tricky question of whether we are witnessing the equivalent of a divisive mini-primary that might or might not be forgotten once the nomination is settled.
For his part, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, widely presumed to be headed for the Democratic nomination, did not attend. The official phrase is "scheduling conflict," but the long-running tension over gay rights groups being barred from marching under their own banners has made it rather routine for Democratic elected officials to not take part in the Manhattan event.
Of that issue, Lazio said, "I think everybody should be permitted to march, except the organizers should decide what kind of signs and how people within the parade identify themselves in groups, and that's a decision for the parade sponsors."
He moved along in the sun, in search of traction, keeping it polite, clearly expecting the Levy kerfuffle to fade.