Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s decision to go forward with the New York Marathon on Sunday despite the fact that the city is still reeling from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy has stirred up another storm of intense reaction in the city.
While a third of the city is still without power and parts of Staten Island, where the race begins, are still under water and thousands are homeless, Bloomberg said the city needs to restart the economic engine to keep the city afloat. But many residents and politicians think holding the race is an awful idea.
The controversy comes as the death toll from Sandy increased to 95, as emergency workers continue to slosh their way through flooded homes looking for survivors and millions of people remain without power in the Northeast. Of the 39 people the storm has killed in New York City, almost half of whom were in Staten Island, the borough hardest hit. In Staten Island, rescue workers yesterday found the bodies of two boys, ages 2 and 4, who were swept away from their mother’s arms Monday night after the car they were driving was swamped by flood waters.
“There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy,” Bloomberg said at a news conference on Wednesday—the day before he endorsed Obama for president.
The mayor promised that the marathon will not divert any resources from storm victims—though it normally takes at least 1,000 city police officers to pull off the mammoth event.
“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.”
But New York City Councilman James Oddo said on Twitter, “If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon, I will scream. We have people with no homes and no hope right now.”
“The prudent course of action here — postpone the marathon, come back a different day,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “Our first priority, let’s help people who lost their homes, who are missing loved ones.”
Lisa Tobin, 35, a pastry cook from the Bronx who will be running in the ING New York City Marathon for the first time, said, “If the city is able to put on the marathon safely and it doesn’t divert resources away from rescue, then runners should take to the street.”
Dave Jaffares, who tends bar at Mullanes Bar & Grill, concurred, saying his bar, which is along the marathon route in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, usually makes $2,000 to $3,000 more on marathon day.
“It needs to happen. The marathon is coming at a great time. It gets people back into the idea that we are New York,” said Jaffares. “This is what we do, we do a marathon every year. Nothing stops us.”
According to the New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, the event will bring $340 million to the city. The club also said yesterday that it will donate at least $1 million, or $26.20 for each of the more than 40,000 runners expected to participate, to aid New Yorkers affected by Sandy. In addition, the Rudin Family, one of the founding members of the marathon, said it would donate $1.1 million and the ING Foundation said it would give $500,000.
“We’re not looking to be a drain on any of the city resources,” NYRR spokesman Richard Finn told Reuters. NYRR had hiked the race fee this year, in part to pay police overtime.
Though more than 47,000 people signed up for this years race, organizers now think that about 8,000 of the 30,000 out-of-towers once expected won’t make it. Hotels in Midtown are already struggling to accommodate stranded commuters, guests moved from electricity-starved Lower Manhattan and tourists unable to get a flight out of town, according to reports in USA TODAY.
“Things are everything but normal for so many people,” said Patricia Profita, a teacher who lives in the Great Kills neighbourhood of Staten Island. “People should not be running through the boroughs, but instead running to aid those people.”
The storm has killed at least 39 people in New York City, almost half of whom were in Staten Island.
The NYRR club announced on its Facebook page last night that this year’s marathon is dedicated to the City of New York, the victims of the hurricane and their families.
But the majority of the more than 270 comments on the page were critical of the decision. Dana Donadio wrote, “As a former Staten Island resident, current Manhattan resident and runner of 2 NYC Marathons I have to say this is an extremely bad idea. The city’s resources could be put to much better use at this time.”
Scott Cohen, 52, who is running his 18th New York City Marathon in a row, admitted it “seems frivolous in light of the death, disruption and despair in parts of the city.”
Still, the fitness trainer expects that by Sunday most New Yorkers will be supportive. “The race has always been a 26.2 mile block party and the city feels the love.”