But many believe the race shouldn’t be held Sunday. A Facebook page called “Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon” has been started and, at this writing, had more than 40,000 “likes.” A number of officials in New York are disagreeing with the move, from city public advocate Bill de Blasio, an initial supporter of the decision who changed his mind (“we need to postpone the marathon and keep our focus where it belongs: on public safety and vital relief operations”) to Councilman James Oddo, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn (“If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon, I will scream," he tweeted. "We have people with no homes and no hope right now.")
And plenty are scoffing at the idea that the inspiration that could result from the event will outweigh the potential costs. As Lynn Zinser wrote for the New York Times, “For some reason, the uplifting value of the New York City Marathon, however, is so off the charts in Bloomberg World that nothing trumps diverting countless police and sanitation resources to marathon duty, even when parts of the metropolitan area lie in ruins and the city is mired in transportation hell.”
Bloomberg defended his decision Friday, saying that the marathon would use “a relatively small amount of Sanitation Department resources” and that there were plenty of police officers who were available. Power is expected to be restored in lower Manhattan on Saturday. Bloomberg also mentioned former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s decision to hold the marathon in the aftermath of Sept. 11. “I think Rudy had it right,” Bloomberg said. “You keep going; you have to do things. You can grieve, you can cry, you can laugh, all at the same time. That’s what human beings are good at.”
Maybe so. The difference, of course, is that Sept. 11 happened nearly two months before the marathon; the distance between Sandy’s impact and this year’s race is just six days. Emotions are still so raw. Chaos still reigns in many impacted areas. And I’d guess that even if power is restored on Saturday, too many New Yorkers will be distracted by getting their life back in order, bailing out their basements and cleaning out their refrigerators to pay too much attention to whatever inspiring marathon moments that may be happening outside their doors.
Bloomberg’s dilemma on the marathon may not be an easy one, but postponing the race does seem like the better call. The race would still happen. Businesses would still get their boost, and New Yorkers with further distance from the frustrations and difficulties of Sandy’s wake would know their city fought on but held off until the immediate upheaval had dissipated. Bloomberg’s instincts to lead the city forward are the right ones. But asking New Yorkers to do so now is just too soon.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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