The New York City Marathon will not be held on Sunday, the city announced this evening, just hours after Mayor Bloomberg insisted the race would proceed. “The city is a city where we have to go on,” he said at at afternoon press conference, in the face of widespread opposition. “If you go back to 9/11, Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon, and pull people together.”
Until this last-minute reversal, the race was scheduled to start Sunday morning in Staten Island, where at least nineteen people are dead and many more devastated after the arrival of Hurricane Sandy less than a week ago. But the growing number of politicians and other New Yorkers against holding the race so soon after the storm became too loud to ignore.
“While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it. 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.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer came out against the marathon earlier today, the Times reports, citing “a tragedy of historic proportions” in which citizens “are struggling to keep body and soul together, deprived of basic essentials as temperatures drop.” Without the event, he said, we can “focus all of the city’s resources on the crucial task of helping our neighbors recover from this disaster.”
Public advocate Bill de Blasio once supported going forward with the race, but changed his mind after touring Staten Island. “The pain and suffering still unfolding in our neighborhoods is too deep for words,” he said. “It’s convinced me the needs are simply too great to divert any resources from the recovery.” City Comptroller John Liu has also flipped his position to oppose the race, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “The decision to move forward with the marathon is not a decision I would have made.”
Still, Bloomberg dug his feet in, arguing Thursday afternoon that the race’s organizers are “running this race to help New York City, and the donations from all the runners in the club will be a great help for our relief efforts.” (Economically, those effects would presumably be felt in a few weeks as well.) Police, he added, would not be diverted, even though NYPD Captains Endowment President Roy Richter said, in a normal year, the marathon “is a tremendous tax on the resources on the Police Department.” Retired and auxiliary members were being asked to volunteer.
Although his leadership has been praised roundly throughout these trying days, on this issue the mayor stood almost entirely alone, with the exception of the New York Road Runners and Rudy Giuliani. “I understand the controversy completely and respect all the views on this, but any decision that was made by the mayor would have been controversial and to call off the race would have been equally controversial,” said board chairman George Hirsch earlier. “By Sunday afternoon, there won’t be any controversy. People will view it as an early step in the city’s recovery.” The city ultimately decided not to take that gamble.
According to the mayor’s office, “The New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead for participants.”
This post has been updated throughout.