Newsday
November 3, 2012


NYC Marathon canceled; Bloomberg backs down to end controversy

By NEWSDAY.COM AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sunday's NYC Marathon was canceled late Friday afternoon after mounting criticism over Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to go forward with the race.

Bloomberg's office announced the decision on Twitter.

"We have decided to cancel the NYC marathon. The New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead for participants."

The decision came as criticism grew throughout the day Friday. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reiterated that the race would go on as planned in a city still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, with some New Yorkers saying that holding the 26.2-mile race would be insensitive and divert police and other important resources when many are still suffering.

In a joint statement, Bloomberg, New York Runners and the New York City Marathon reiterated their commitment to the race, but said they wished to avoid controversy.

"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," the statement read.

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.

"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 New York Road Runners said they'd have additional information for participants in the days ahead.

Five Native American runners from tribes in South Dakota arrived picked up their bib numbers and got in a quick 2-mile run Friday. Upon returning to their hotel, they found out the marathon was cancelled.

"It felt like a hit to the gut," Jeff Turning Heart Jr., told The Associated Press by telephone. Turning Heart Jr. -- along with Amanda Carlow, Nupa White Plume, Alex Wilson and Kelsey Good Lance -- had been planning to run the 26.2-mile race to raise money for a local youth shelter.

Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners, said she sensed an animosity toward runners in general as the week wore on. About 10,000 runners were expected to drop out after the storm arrived, she said.

Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications, said the mayor's office consulted with officials in all levels of government during the week. There was no one tipping point, he said.

Wolfson acknowledged that local businesses won't take in all of the $340 million the marathon was estimated to attract. But because many runners had already traveled to the city, money will still pour in.

Wittenberg said the relief fund announced Thursday had already raised $2.6 million.

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."

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.

While runners expressed disappointment, the move came as a relief to some New Yorkers who were furious earlier in the day that Bloomberg was holding strong to his decision to hold the race.

Joan Wacks, whose Staten Island waterfront condo was swamped with 4 feet of water, predicted authorities would still be recovering bodies when the estimated 40,000 runners from around the world were to hit the streets Sunday, and she called the mayor "tone deaf."

"He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with," she said. "If there are any resources being put toward the marathon, that's wrong. I'm sorry, that's wrong."

She added: "We totally understand the public relations aspect, to show everyone survived. But this is not one of those times."

At a news conference Friday morning, Bloomberg defended his earlier decision as a way to raise money for the stricken city and boost morale less than a week after Sandy flooded neighborhoods, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses and killed at least 41 people. He noted that his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, went ahead with the New York Marathon two months after 9/11.

"If you go back to 9/11, Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon and pull people together," Bloomberg said. He said the marathon's organizers are "running this race to help New York City, and the donations from all the runners in the club will be a great help for our relief efforts."