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A damp and chilly Emancipation Day meant the big parade down Pennsylvania Avenue NW didn’t turn out to be the crowded meet-and-greet event candidates and visibility-seeking politicos had hoped for. Parade participants outnumbered spectators, and most of the pols choose the cozy comfort of waving from an automobile over mixing with the nearly nonexistent crowds in a cold rain.

The at-large D.C. Council race was the only contest that prompted serious crowd-working commitment. Incumbent Phil Mendelson stalked the parade route with an umbrella and campaign T-shirt. He followed closely on the heels of challenger A. Scott Bolden, who also opted for the close-to-the-people approach.

A car carrying a sign bearing the name of At-Large Councilmember David Catania was so fogged up it was impossible to see who was inside. Catania was indeed in the car, according to Mendelson, who says his 5-year-old daughter Adelaide accepted Catania’s offer to keep her out of the rain. She did snag a ride on daddy’s shoulders for part of the route.

The parade’s unofficial sponsor, Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange caught an unlucky break that turned out to be pretty lucky in the end. He was supposed to ride solo in a horse-drawn carriage near the front of the parade route, complete with a sign identifying him taped to the side—an appropriate gesture for the sponsor of the bill that established Emancipation Day. But as Orange tells it: “My horse got scared, and they had to take the carriage out” of the parade lineup.

Instead, Orange rode out front with Mayor Anthony A. Williams in a fancy white carriage decorated with flowers. Williams has taken to giving Orange a freebie now and then. Three times in recent months he’s allowed Orange to present what amounted to campaign speeches at his weekly press conference.

Even though he lost his sign because of a skittish horse, Orange seemed to enjoy the lift from Williams. Why not? It’s likely to be the only time he rides in a parade float that includes a sign identifying him as mayor.

Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who is running for mayor, smiled and waved from heated comfort for most of the parade and then bailed out around 10th Street to walk the final four blocks. She’s figured out that a strong finish is what really matters when it comes to campaigns.

You can’t blame Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown for driving themselves on the route. Neither is running for re-election in the fall. Give them credit for just showing up at D.C.’s unique holiday celebration.

The parade also featured a couple of phantom candidates. Mayoral hopeful and Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty ran a truck with a sign in the parade, but the candidate himself was nowhere to be found. The same goes for Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray. His red, white, and blue sign calling on voters to choose him to be the next D.C. Council chair graced the side of a van packed with campaign volunteers but no candidate.

The other major candidate for chair, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, waved from the comfort of a black Saab.

The Gray boosters did nail one time-honored technique for cementing a solid reputation among parade-watchers: They made sure to hand out lots of candy.