I think it is pure insanity to try and pull-off the NY Marathon so soon after the devastation left behind in the wake of superstorm, Sandy – but as the saying goes, “The show must go on!” But will this city really be ready for 50,000 folks running around on its storm twisted streets, BY SUNDAY?
The race, the world’s largest with a field of nearly 50,000 runners, is scheduled for Sunday morning — barely six days after Hurricane Sandy left parts of the city in ruins and crippled its transportation system.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and marathon organizers have said the race will go on as scheduled, as it has every year since 1970, as a symbol of the city’s ability to rally after hard times.
“It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, 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,” Bloomberg said.
But that plan has been met with a backlash from area residents and even many runners registered for the marathon who believe it is in poor taste to hold a road race through the five boroughs as hundreds of thousands of people in nearby areas continue to suffer the damage wrought by the storm.
Critics of the plan to hold the marathon also say that diverting the police and fire crews to perform marathon duties is a misuse of precious public services.
“As an emergency room nurse, I’ve witnessed devastation,” said Barbara Cowman, a 48-year-old from Austin, Tex., who, along with four friends, decided this week to drop out of the race. “I think it’s wrong to ask police officers and the fire department to make sure that the racecourse is supported for those runners.”
She added, “I get the resilience piece, but it just seems like you should be catering to the needs of those in the area rather than all of these out-of-town people descending to run the race.”
While Bloomberg reiterated Wednesday that the race would be held Sunday, New York Road Runners said it was still waiting for official approval from the city. The group was also considering whether to cancel two annual events that are held in conjunction with the marathon: the opening ceremony in Central Park on Friday evening and the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday morning.
“The hope is the marathon goes on,” Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of Road Runners, said Wednesday. She added, “The mayor will make the right decision, and the decision is in his hands.”
In a statement, the public advocate Bill de Blasio said he supported the decision to hold the race, citing the economic benefits.
But James Molinaro, the Staten Island borough president, called on the mayor’s office to reconsider holding the marathon this weekend, according to The Staten Island Advance. “I just assumed it was canceled,” Molinaro told The Advance. “My God. 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.”
The five-borough race is actually more than a parade, with 47,000 runners, 8,000 volunteers, 1,000 staffers and 2 million spectators. And putting it on just days after a devastating storm will be challenging as the police and fire departments, electric utilities and transportation agencies attempt to get the city back on its feet.
“I do appreciate that the marathon brings in money to local business, but let’s be honest, it’s a huge draw on our resources,” said state Senator Liz Krueger, who represents part of Midtown, which will be affected by the final portion of the marathon’s course. “It’s a huge draw on our other resources. None of the boroughs is near up and running.”
Krueger called the mayor’s decision to hold the race “a glaring misstep in the context of so much effective, successful emergency response.”
Wittenberg said her organization had contingency plans in place, including adjusting the course and hiring private companies to handle some of the services provided by the city. If subway services are not restored to Lower Manhattan, where many runners travel to get on the Staten Island Ferry, more buses could be added.
Wittenberg said that runners who withdraw from the race would be guaranteed a spot in next year’s marathon but would lose their entry fee from this year and have to pay a new entry fee next year. The marathon generates about half of Road Runners’ annual revenue of nearly $60 million, and refunding potentially thousands of entry fees would put a dent in the organization’s budget.