As the city struggles to get its power back on, its transit system working, and the rest of its basic services restored, one apparent extravagance has become a lightning rod for controversy: the New York City Marathon. The race, scheduled for Sunday, winds from Staten Island, through Brooklyn and Queens, up Manhattan’s East Side into the Bronx, then back down to Central Park. It seems like the kind of major logistical undertaking that would test a city any time, let alone less than a week after one of its biggest-ever disasters. But the mayor says the race will go on, despite a growing backlash to it. Below, a look at the arguments for and against canceling this year’s event.
The Show Must Go On:
“The city is a city where we have to go on”: That was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s takeaway line from Thursday’s press conference, during which he defended the city’s decision to go ahead with the event. George Hirsch, the chairman of the board of race organizer New York Road Runners, echoed that sentiment in an interview with the New York Times: “By Sunday afternoon, there won’t be any controversy. People will view it as an early step in the city’s recovery.”
It won’t unduly strain resources: Most areas of the city are expected to have power back by Sunday, which would free up city workers, including “an enormous number of police,” who are currently directing traffic by hand downtown, Bloomberg said. Since the storm, organizers have cut out almost all of the events that accompany the race, so the event really will be just the running on Sunday afternoon. And attendance is down, too. “Hirsch said he expected about 40,000 runners to begin the race, about 15 percent below what had initially been expected,” the Times reports. The city bills the Road Runners to hold the race, and before the storm they were expected to dish out $2.5 million, well up from the $800,000 last year.
It’s a big money generator: Charity and otherwise, the race generates a lot of money for the city. Per the Times, Road Runners “plans to donate $1 million, or $26.20 for every runner who starts the race, to relief efforts in the city. The Rudin Family and ING, two sponsors of the race, will donate a combined $1.6 million to storm relief. Road Runners is working to donate other supplies to relief efforts.” And that’s not to mention the dollars visiting runners plan to spend at hotels. According to CBS, “The marathon brings an estimated $340 million into the city.”
This Is Not the Year:
We can’t spare the resources: Staten Island Councilman Oddo called the decision to hold the race “idiotic,” saying not one cop or emergency worker should be diverted from the still-reeling disaster zones. He told the Daily News: “The mayor said to me, ‘We’re not going to diminish what is happening on Staten Island.’ You know what happens on marathons — you put a cop on every corner. How are we going to have enough resources?” And the Guardian’s Heidi Moore points out that we didn’t have enough police to do Halloween, and with rescues still going on, they shouldn’t be spared to handle the race, either.
No one will come: The Staten Island Ferry is “in doubt,” for now, the Times reports, so runners will need to take buses to get to the planned starting line. And if transportation is that difficult for the participants, forget about spectators. Moore called running a race without spectators “one of the world’s most depressing tasks for a runner,” which some of her commenters disagreed with, but regardless, the registration has already dropped this year, as mentioned, and some participants on the race’s Facebook page are promising to boycott.
You can’t do this to Staten Island: The extent of the impact to Staten Island, where the race is to start, is still becoming clear, and it is massive. The Times reported Thursday night that 19 of the city’s 40 fatal victims had been discovered there, including two little boys who were washed out of their mother’s arms. Search teams “from Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia” continued to comb the island on Thursday, hoping to find survivors, but finding bodies. There is already a petition and Facebook campaign underway to postpone the race out of respect for Staten Island and other storm-ravaged areas.