The Fourth of July in Chicago: picnics, parades and politics

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A picture-perfect blue sky, a lake breeze and 70-degree weather brought big crowds of sun-starved families to the lakefront and to local parades, as succulent smells of barbeque mixed with politicians intent on getting their messages across in an election year.

Families camped out with barbeque grills and all the fixings in Hyde Park celebrated the fact that they didn’t have to plan for rain; no need to set up tents, or make back-up plans to run to a relative’s house nearby.

The weather still couldn’t satisfy every Fourth of July celebrant Friday; Stephon Wilson of Hyde Park pined for higher temperatures.

“It could be warmer, but it’s not bad,” said the criminal defense lawyer, who was out biking with 9-year-old son Arashi and wife Atsuko from 53rd Street and South Hyde Park Boulevard to the 31st Street beach.

Many of the families waiting patiently amid tantalizing smells of chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers had watched the 23rd annual Fourth of July parade on 54th Street, where politicians in patriotic costumes stood out from T-shirts and shorts-clad families, community groups and marching bands from Kenwood Academy and King College Prep schools. The family-themed parade also featured majorettes, Girl Scouts, horseback riders and children dancing, doing acrobatics and riding bikes and tricycles,

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the parade’s grand marshal, once again dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, as she has every year she has marched in her neighborhood parade. Preckwinkle on Friday repeated — again — her pledge to run for re-election to her current post, despite building speculation that she could mount a campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose approval ratings among voters have taken hit.

Preckwinkle said a friend’s mother made her costume — a pale lime-green long dress with red-white-and-blue sash, which she topped with a silver crown accented with blue fake rhinestones and a make-believe flame that matched the dress’ color.

Preckwinkle and the other Democrats on parade expressed their confidence in digging out of an increasingly complicated employee-pension crisis and predicted that Gov. Pat Quinn would beat back Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.

Rauner’s campaign did not respond directly to the Democrats’ criticism, but said a major issue in the campaign is an investigation into Quinn’s anti-violence program. On Friday, Quinn released to the Sun-Times a copy of a subpoena issued in May by a federal grand jury, seeking emails of former members of the Quinn administration who had been in charge of the program, called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

“This news is extremely disappointing and deeply disturbing,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a statement. “The people of Illinois have seen too many governors fall under federal investigations and this development looks all too familiar.”

Rauner marched in at least sixparades — in Arlington Heights, Evergreen Park, Glenview, Mount Prospect, Niles and Northbrook.

Indeed, community parades — with politicians marching along, waving and shaking hands — could be found throughout the region. The governor also was in the Arlington Heights parade as well as parades in Elgin,Evanston and Villa Park, while Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., planned to participate in two parades on Friday — one in Aurora and another in Northbrook.

Families who had staked out their picnic spots along the lakefront said the beautiful weather heightened their appreciation of their family get-togethers, which remind them of the day’s seriousness.

Teresa Smith, a hospice nurse from southwest suburban Crestwood, said she would be joined by about 30 family members celebrating over a grill filled with chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers at 53rd Street and the lakefront.

“It’s about family and remembering those who couldn’t be with us and who paved the way,” she said.

Nearby, Todd Lucas, 26, of the South Side, said he was more excited than his 2-year-old son, “T.J.,” to watch Friday night’s Navy Pier fireworks — a first for them. Officials say Navy Pier alone was expecting a crowd of 125,000 to watch the fireworks. By mid-day the pier’s parking garages were full, according to a spokeswoman.

“This is such a nice day,” Lucas said. “It’s about children with their families, celebrating our independence and our freedom with people we love.”

“It’s more fun when the sun stays out,” he said, standing near a volleyball net and a barbeque grill made of a big steel drum atop a grocery cart hand-crafted by his uncle, Curtis Johnson. The family crowd was expected to grow to nearly 30 by the time the chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers and mild and hot links were ready to eat.

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