“While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division,” said Bloomberg in a statement.” The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.”
Bloomberg and the New York Road Runners (NYRR), which organizes the event, came under fire this week for remaining steadfast in their decision to host an international marathon in a city still facing massive flooding, power outages and thousands of evacuated residents. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track,” said Bloomberg.
Earlier on Friday, Bloomberg said the marathon will “give people something to cheer about in what has been a very dismal week.”
Fellow city officials, however, did not find the Mayor’s resilience admirable, but an irresponsible allocation of resources. Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council member for Council District 8, which includes East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and Mott Haven, said having the marathon on Sunday would be inappropriate. “I think we should definitely reconsider it, and ask people who are already here to consider volunteering instead of running. It will take away from first responders that need to be addressing the needs of our constituents in New York City. I understand it’s a really big effort with a lot of logistics involved, but you know what, this is an emergency. This is a tragedy of historic proportions and things should be re-evaluated,” she said.
Originally, the marathon was set to kick off on Staten Island, one of the city’s hardest-hit boroughs. Ferry transportation to Staten Island was cancelled, so race organizers were planning to transport runners by bus. James Molinaro, the Staten Island borough president told The Staten Island Advance he assumed the marathon was cancelled from the beginning, saying, “What we have here is terrible, a disaster. If they want to race, let them race with themselves. This is no time for a parade. A marathon is a parade.”
With hotel rooms already occupied by New Yorkers displaced from their homes due to lack of power, the city was expected to accommodate another 47,000 runners, including thousands of international contenders and their entourages, by Sunday. Some hotel managers were refusing to evict desperate families with nowhere else to go. Richard Nicotra, owner of a Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island, told NY1 he would not force out evacuees “because I need to make room for someone who has to run a marathon.”
Other politicians, including Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer appealed to Bloomberg and the NYRR to postpone the marathon. “I believe we should postpone and re-schedule the New York City Marathon in order to focus all of the City’s resources on the crucial task of helping our neighbors recover from this disaster. New Yorkers deserve nothing less than to know that the entire government is focused solely on returning the City and their region back to normalcy,” Stringer said in a statement.
Never shy about voicing their opinion, New Yorkers flooded social media with their disapproval, criticizing the mayor, race organizers and sponsors. Some even suggested protests. An online petition proposing NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg and Bloomberg postpone the race until spring 2013 had already received over 20,000 signatures.
The cover of the New York Post on Friday displayed un-used generators ear marked for the marathon, spurring further outrage among New Yorkers over the diversion of resources during what many are calling a state of emergency. “The three diesel-powered generators crank out 800 kilowatts—enough to power 400 homes in ravaged areas like Staten Island, the Rockaways and downtown Manhattan,” the Post wrote.
“A race of that magnitude takes time [away] from the NYPD[‘s duties]; there needs to be emergency resources on hand in case something happens to one of the runners. You’re talking about EMS, you’re talking about FDNY,” says Mark-Viverito. “We have communities that have hardly been touched by the resources and support they need. All efforts should be going towards [them] and not having to think twice about if we are going to have a cop on the parade route.”
Molinaro told The Staten Island Advance that the borough could not risk losing any emergency personnel: “Do you realize how many police officers you need for a marathon? There are people looting stores on Midland Avenue. There is looting taking place in the homes on the South Shore that were destroyed. That is where we need the police,” he said.
Aware of the public relations challenge they faced, race organizers were quick to capitalize on what some saw as the only reason to let the starting gun go off: the event’s ability to lift spirits and provide beleagurered victims of Sandy with some welcome distraction. The 2012 ING New York City Marathon was renamed the Race to Recover, and the NYRR and sponsors raised money to go directly to the Mayor’s Fund, now dedicated toward Sandy recovery, and the American Red Cross. So far, the NYRR has contributed $1 million, the Rudin Family, one of the race’s founding families, contributed $1.1 million, marathon title sponsor ING donated $500,000, and marathon caterer Pasha Events, which Finn says lost two Manhattan restaurants, contributed $26,000. Runners were also asked to contribute to generate some much-needed goodwill by donating a minimum of $26.20, in recognition of the race’s 26.2 mile distance.
New York Road Runners says they will have additional information for participants in the following days.