Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:11 PM
NEW YORK— The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticism that it was wrong to hold the race while the region is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
With people in storm-ravaged areas shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York City at more than 40, many residents recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect Sunday’s race.
An estimated 47,500 runners from around the world had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event before the storm hit on Monday. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the most devastated places.
A few hours after Bloomberg insisted the race would be held, he reversed himself after top city officials lined up against him.
"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," the mayor said in a statement. "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."
Bloomberg’s decision came just a day after he appealed to the grit and resiliency of New Yorkers, saying "This city is a city where we have to go on."
The nationally televised race that winds through the city’s five boroughs and ends in Central Park has been held annually since 1970 — it was held in 2001, about two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The cancellation means there won’t be another NYC Marathon until next year.
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.
"It is clear it that it has become the source of controversy and division," Bloomberg said. "The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination."
Mary Wittenberg, president of the organizing New York Road Runners, said it was the right move.
"This is what we need to do and the right thing at this time," she told The Associated Press.
"It’s been a week where we worked very closely with the mayor’s office and felt very strongly, both of us together, that on Tuesday it seemed that the best thing for New York on Sunday would be moving forward. As the days went on, just today it got to the point where that was no longer the case."
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."
Wittenberg said about 10,000 runners were expected to drop out after the storm arrived.
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.
Brune said he thinks foreign runners who traveled for the race will be even more disappointed.
"When you have a significant amount of people voicing real pain and unhappiness over its running, you have to hear that. You have to take that into consideration," said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications.
"Something that is such a celebration of the best of New York can’t become divisive. That is not good for the city now as we try to complete our recovery effort, and it is not good for the marathon in the long run," he said.
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