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New York City Marathon backlash growing days before race

(Richard Drew / AP)

Sporting events have the power to galvanize a community and provide a distraction — however brief — from the struggles of everyday life.

That seems to be the thinking behind New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to go ahead with the New York City Marathon as scheduled only days after Hurricane Sandy left much of the city under water and without power. (The estimated $340 million the city expects to take in during the event is also a key consideration.)

But for the residents who are still picking up the pieces after Sandy — and those still without power — it seems unconscionable that the city would devote hundreds of law enforcement officials and, as the New York Post’s Friday cover depicts, massive generators to put on the race.

“This city is a city where we have to go on,” Bloomberg said Thursday while insisting that the resources used for the race would not impact those going to storm victims. He also said power was expected to be restored throughout Manhattan by race day.

“I think some people said you shouldn’t run the marathon,” Bloomberg said at a news briefing Wednesday (via the Associated Press). “There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There’s lots of people that have come here. It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you’ve got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind.”

City Council member Domenic Recchia Jr. called Bloomberg’s decision to go forward with the race “just wrong,” and Staten Island Councilman James Oddo called deemed it “idiotic.” That seems to be the growing consensus from politicians and citizens alike — and even some race-goers.

“I cannot start a 26.2 mile run in Staten Island — people are missing, stranded, in need of resources,” Brooklyn resident and race entrant Penny Krakoff told Gothamist. “Brooklyn and Queens have equal devastation. Parts of Manhattan are without electricity, water, major hospitals are closed. The Bronx too has its own challenges. Today I will volunteer at a city evacuation shelter. Sunday morning I will catch the marathon bus to Staten Island. Not planning to run. Plan to volunteer instead and gather resources (extra clothes, bottles of water, food from runners at the start). Let’s not waste resources and attention on a foot race. Who is with me?”

Nearly 30,000 of the 47,500 race entrants will be traveling to the race from outside the city, adding to the strain on the city’s re-opened airports and heavily damaged public transportation system and extending the already lengthy lines at gas stations.

New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said race organizers commissioned buses to transport runners to Staten Island, but the city wants to use the ferry, as it has in years past. Full transportation plans were expected to be announced Friday.

Bloomberg wasted no time postponing Thursday’s scheduled NBA season opener between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets at the new Barclays Center. That decision was lauded as both rational and warranted. As ESPN columnist and runner Mario Fraioli explains, Bloomberg owed it to his city to make the same tough call on the marathon.

New York is a city that has a proven history of encountering tragedy only to unite and overcome it, even under the gravest of situations. I have no doubt that the city will do so again during these trying times, but staging a marathon this weekend — even the biggest and most recognizable one in the world — while the city it winds through is in the direst of straits shouldn’t be a priority, and it does very little to improve the current situation for many of the 8 million-plus people who call the Big Apple home. I’m ready to be ripped apart for what I’m about to write, but the New York City Marathon does not need to happen this Sunday. There are more pressing issues that rightfully deserve the city’s attention, energy and limited resources.
Electing to cancel an event of this magnitude is not an easy decision by any stretch, and some would even argue advisable or conscionable, but given the situation it’s a difficult one that must be made for the greater good of New York City and its residents. Period.

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