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Conner, Crew Get Big Cheers in Big Apple

Times Staff Writer

A boisterous crowd estimated at 100,000 poured onto the chilly sidewalks of 5th Avenue Tuesday to cheer Dennis Conner and his Stars & Stripes crew during a 13-block ticker-tape parade.

The parade, paid for by real-estate magnate Donald Trump, was the last public event on a four-day American victory lap that began Saturday when Conner triumphantly returned to San Diego from Australia with the America’s Cup, the Holy Grail of sailing.

Despite temperatures in the mid 20s to low 30s, the sidewalks of 5th Avenue were lined with people, many of them on their lunch hour, as Conner, dressed in a long fur coat and wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Top Gun,” and his crew rode by atop a Statue of Liberty float donated by Macy’s.

The Stars & Stripes skipper and his crew, wearing heavy, cherry-red colored jackets donated by a corporate sponsor and sock caps to ward off the cold, were joined on the float by Trump, New York Mayor Ed Koch and San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, who stood at the front next to the Cup.

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Originally, the crew, Conner, Trump and both mayors were scheduled to ride on the deck of one of the early editions of Stars & Stripes. But that plan was shelved because of concerns over the stability of the 12-meter craft as it was pulled on a trailer.

People shouted and cheered wildly as the crew and the Cup passed them by, and hundreds of people in tall office buildings that border 5th Avenue like a concrete-and-glass forest opened their windows and showered them with paper.

Ticker tape, however, is a remnant of the past. As a substitute, office workers threw out shredded computer printouts, note paper and even paper towels. Conner and the crew never stopped waving, acknowledging the crowd with broad smiles and thumbs-up salutes.

Afterward, crewman Henry Childers, one of Stars & Stripes grinders, was overwhelmed by New York’s response, saying: “A ticker-tape parade in New York, what can I tell you? What’s better than that? There’s just nothing more you can say.”

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New York was ready on Tuesday for America’s newest sporting heroes. The New York Times ran a front-page photograph of Conner and President Reagan, taken a day earlier at a White House ceremony.

The picture was followed by three full-page ads paid for by a rum maker, an airline and a cigarette company, all of whom are among Conner’s many corporate sponsors. There were other ads as well, including those from a coffee company, a women’s apparel manufacturer and two old-line New York companies, Brooks Brothers and Tiffany & Co., which gave Conner and each crew member a marine chronometer.

Not to be outdone, some local car dealers also welcomed the Stars & Stripes contingent on television ads while hawking their autos.

“Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. These car dealers are saying, ‘Congratulations, Dennis,’ as if they are good buddies and went to high school with him,” said Dick Sanocki, a 45-year-old computer service company owner from Connecticut who was at the parade along with his teen-age son, A.J.

Sanocki, whose hobby is sailing, works in New York City, and he made it a point to come out and cheer the crew. “It might be cold, but people will come out,” he said. “I’d say there’s a lot of pride in it all.”

Barry Greene, 39, who lives in New Jersey and works in Manhattan, was among the many who feted Conner and the crew even though he has only a passing interest in sailing.

“I’m into motor boats,” he said. “But I found myself staying up to watch the races, and an awful lot of other people did the same thing. That’s why I’m here.”

Some people, such as Paul Wright, 28, and his brother Patrick, 23, delayed their trip home to Virginia for a day just to watch the parade. “This parade seems to bring out nationalistic pride, and that’s good,” Paul said.

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The procession, though, also brought out an assortment of hecklers, who aimed most of their verbal barrage at Mayor Koch for intruding into the festivities. When Koch, in ceremonies at the end of the parade in front of the glitzy Trump Towers, announced the presence of a few local politicians, he and they were roundly booed by the crowd.

At least one heckler focused on Conner and the crew as he stood on a corner shouting obscenities as their float went by. His curses, however, were drowned out by the overwhelming cheers, whistles and applause of the crowd around him.

A New York police chief, Allan Hoehl, said the estimated 100,000 turnout was a good-sized crowd for a relatively short parade on a relatively nice day in the middle of winter.

But, he noted, it paled in comparison to one held in October for the World Series champion New York Mets, who drew more than 1 million people for a parade down Broadway.

At the brief ceremonies following the half-hour-long procession--which also included a military marching band, a river boat float for the Conner entourage and Sail America officials, and a Mayflower float carrying 65 workers from the Derecktor Shipyard in Mamaroneck, N.Y., where Stars & Stripes was built--O’Connor praised the crew and Conner.

She called them “national treasures and they belong to us.” Koch, who presented the skipper and crew keys to the city, noted that the parade went by the offices of the New York Yacht Club, which Conner represented when he lost the Cup in 1983.

What Koch didn’t mention, however, was that the New York Yacht Club--who some believe abandoned Conner in the hour of his worst defeat--ignored the festivities and didn’t hold a party or reception for Conner during his stay in New York.

Secretaries at the yacht club said club officials were still in Australia and that no one else could comment for the club.

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Koch described Conner as the “sailor who put the star in Stars and Stripes” and as “Dennis the Menace of Kookaburra III.” Conner made some brief remarks, thanking the city, its citizens and Trump for the parade.


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