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New York's Bloomberg faces marathon backlash

NEW YORK (AFP) –

Workers construct the Finish Line as preparations continue for the 43rd New York City Marathon

With the fallen crane at the One 57 building in the background, workers construct the Finish Line as preparations continue for the 43rd New York City Marathon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced a rising backlash Friday over his decision to let New York’s annual marathon go ahead this weekend even as many people suffer in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

The blistering criticism ahead of Sunday’s race is coming from local officials, the media, everyday New Yorkers and even people who plan — or had planned — to run.

“The decision to move forward with the marathon is not a decision I would have made,” said city council speaker Christine Quinn, a Bloomberg confidante considered a frontrunner to replace him next year.

Councilman Domenic Recchia, speaking to local news, called on runners to “run up and down the apartment buildings, delivering water and food.”

And James Oddo, a councilman representing Staten Island, one of the city boroughs worst affected by the storm, was even blunter.

“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,” he wrote on his Twitter feed.

An online petition that had gathered over 22,500 signatures by mid-afternoon Friday called for the race to be postponed until spring 2013, a plea backed by the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer.

And the New York Post dedicated its front page to the story, saying several generators that could power homes were being used for a marathon media center.

“The notion that so much as a flashlight battery would be devoted to a sporting event is outrageous,” the paper said in an editorial.

But Bloomberg defended the decision, promising that resources would not be taken away from those in need.

A runner passes by portable generators near the finish Line of the New York City Marathon

A runner passes by portable generators near the finish Line of the New York City Marathon. Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced a rising backlash Friday over his decision to let New York’s annual marathon go ahead this weekend even as many people suffer in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

“There will be no diversion of resources,” he pledged. “The marathon’s not going to redirect any focus.”

He recalled his predecessor Rudy Guiliani’s decision to proceed with the marathon after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“I think Rudy had it right. You have to keep going and doing things, and you can grieve, cry, and laugh all at the same time. That’s what human beings are good at.”

Even among those planning to run the race there were calls for its cancellation.

One group set up a Facebook page that quickly garnered over 3,000 “likes,” pledging to boycott the race.

“Due to the catastrophic events, we have decided to wear our bib numbers on race day, but will not be running. We will be volunteering and assisting those in Staten Island who need our help,” they wrote.

“We disagree with the decision to proceed with the marathon in light of the fact that there are so many fellow New Yorkers without homes, power, food, water and basic essentials.”

Another group of runners announced they would start the race but break away at various points “to deliver supplies to places hardest hit and without power.”

Other runners said they would take part, but expressed mixed feelings.

Jared Thigpen, a 32-year-old engineer, was on a bus coming from Washington DC on Friday morning, ahead of the Sunday race. An 11-time marathon runner, he entered the lottery to run New York’s race three years in a row before winning a spot.

But after the storm, he had expected the city to cancel the marathon.

“I personally thought that they would and should cancel it,” he said. “There are still people in need of police support and help from city officials that are now going to be distracted by putting on the race.”

Christina Wallace, a 28-year-old first time marathon runner, expressed similar discomfort.

“I don’t think it’s the right decision,” she said. “I understand the economic impact of the race but I think postponing a week or two, or rescheduling… would be preferable.”

“At the very least I think the starting line should be moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn. Staten Island arguably has been hit the hardest of the boroughs… It doesn’t feel right to line up yards away from that devastation.”

Alex Zerden, 27, got involved with the marathon to raise money for a cancer research group, but now feels torn about the race.

“My hope is that the resources are being put where they should be, first and foremost helping those in need now,” he said.

“Helping people in need should be the first priority,” he added. “But I also understand the importance of getting back to normal and maintaining the resiliency of the city.”

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