Hurricane Sandy Recovery: New York City Marathon Canceled Amidst Storm Of Criticism

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hurricane sandy new york damageNEW YORK (AP) — Under growing pressure as thousands still shivered from Sandy, the New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticism that this was not the time for a race.

With people in storm-ravaged areas shivering without electricity and the death toll in the city at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect a marathon, storm victims being evicted from hotels to make way for runners, and big generators humming along at the finish-line tents in Central Park.

Around 47,500 runners from around the globe had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event Sunday, with more than 1 million spectators usually lining the route for the world’s largest marathon. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the storm’s hardest-hit places.

Bloomberg had pressed ahead with plans run the marathon on schedule, but opposition intensified quickly Friday afternoon from the city controller, Manhattan borough president and sanitation workers.

Finally, the mayor backed down about three hours later.

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “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.”

The cancellation means there won’t be another NYC Marathon until next year.

Bloomberg called the marathon an “integral part of New York City’s life for 40 years” and “an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch.”

He still insisted that holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, but understood the level of friction.

“It is clear it that it has become the source of controversy and division,” Bloomberg said. “The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination.

Bloomberg’s decision came just a day after he appealed to the grit and resiliency of New Yorkers, saying “This city is a city where we have to go on.”

The nationally televised race that winds through the city’s five boroughs and has been held annually since 1970 – it was held in 2001, about two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mary Wittenberg, president of the organizing New York Road Runners, said it was the right move to cancel.

“This is what we need to do and the right thing at this time,” she said.

“It’s been a week where we worked very closely with the mayor’s office and felt very strongly, both of us together, that on Tuesday it seemed that the best thing for New York on Sunday would be moving forward. As the days went on, just today it got to the point where that was no longer the case.”

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association – the police department’s largest union – called the decision to cancel the marathon “a wise choice.”

Wittenberg said about 10,000 runners were expected to drop out after the storm arrived.

As of now, NYRR is sticking to its policy of no refunds for the runners, but will guarantee entry to next year’s marathon. But Wittenberg said they will review that stance.

Eric Jones said he was part of a group from the Netherlands that collected $1.5 million to donate to a children’s cancer charity if the runners competed.

“We understand, but maybe the decision could have been made earlier, before we traveled this far,” said Jones, whose group came to New York a day earlier.

Steve Brune, a Manhattan entrepreneur, was set to run his fourth NYC Marathon.

“I’m disappointed, but I can understand why it’s more important to use our resources for those who have lost a lot,” he said.

Brune said he thinks foreign runners who traveled for the race will be even more disappointed.

“When you have a significant amount of people voicing real pain and unhappiness over its running, you have to hear that. You have to take that into consideration,” said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications.

“Something that is such a celebration of the best of New York can’t become divisive. That is not good for the city now as we try to complete our recovery effort, and it is not good for the marathon in the long run,” he said.

Earlier in the day, race preparations seemed under way as normal.

White tents where the runners would meet were already erected. Plastic crates lined the park’s wall for two blocks, with tangles of electric wires and other setup equipment where workers buzzed around. A few TV news crews set up camp.

Along the race route in Queens, a couple of marathon banners hung from street lamps.

In Brooklyn, the effects of the storm were more apparent. One gas station had a long line of cars extending down the block. Another had dozens of people standing on the sidewalk, clutching red fuel cans.

At the midtown New Yorker Hotel, the lobby was filled with anguished runners, some crying and others with puffy eyes. In one corner, a group of Italian runners watched the news with blank looks.

“I have no words,” said Roberto Dell’Olmo, from Vercelli, Italy. Then later: “I would like that the money I give from the marathon goes to victims.”

Gisela Clausen, of Munich, told her fellow runners about the cancellation as they walked in.

“You don’t understand. We spend a year on this. We don’t eat what we want. We don’t drink what we want. And we’re on the streets for hours. We live for this marathon, but we understand,” she said.

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