Hours long waits in gas lines in New York and New Jersey.
Millions still without power.
And many residents told they won’t be able to return home for weeks.
Despite days of insistence from Mayor Bloomberg that the New York marathon would go on as planned, on Friday evening, the race was officially canceled. The decision coming after days of pleading from race-goers and New York residents.
"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," Mayor Bloomberg and the race organizer said in a joint statement.
In the days following Sandy, Bloomberg touted a message of hope for those experiencing loss and devastation, and insisting the marathon would move forward as a sign of rebuilding and unity.That decision was unthinkable given the number of people who are still without power and food, let alone resources to get their lives back on track.
On Friday during a press conference before he cancelled the race, the mayor referenced former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s decision to move forward with the marathon following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Bloomberg said “I think Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon. It pulled people together. And we have to find some ways to express ourselves and show our solidarity with each other.”
If there was any doubt of the mayor’s intentions, shortly after that news conference, he tweeted from his official account, “The NYC Marathon will go on as scheduled this Sunday. Good luck runners!”
But that sentiment would only last a few hours.
Molly Baker, who ran last year’s marathon, says it’s too early to start a celebration after Sandy.
“The New York marathon truly is a celebration of the city,” she said. “It’s the race of a lifetime for those running. And I understand it’s disappointing if it’s canceled, but now is a time to focus on recovery and those who are in dire straits, rather than having a party at this point.”
She added there’s a huge difference between the marathon following the 2001 terrorist attacks and the one taking place this weekend.
“The marathon took place two months after the attacks. We had months of healing and recovery as opposed to just five days after this hurricane, “she said. “The spirit of NYC is a great way to celebrate, but there was time for the city to heal first.”
There’s no doubt the marathon will bring economic benefits to a city in need. After all, the marathon has an estimated $340 million economic impact on New York City. And this year, it will add even more with marathoners asked to donate money -- $1 for every mile of the race, totaling $26.20 per runner – to go toward relief and recovery efforts. Additionally, race organizer New York Road Runners said it will donate $1 million to a recovery fund, and said more than $1.5 million in pledges from sponsors has been secured
In a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg reinforced the economic benefits of continuing with the race.
“I think some people said you shouldn’t run the marathon. There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There’s lots of people that have come here. It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, 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 many runners and New York residents said that wasn't a good enough reason to divert the city’s resources from those in need. In fact, there’s already an online petition with more than 20,000 supporters asking Mayor Bloomberg and New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg to postpone the race.
“Sunday would have been my first time to stand at the starting line of the Marathon,” wrote Laura Mello, who signed the petition. “Something I have been working toward, through injuries and more, since 2008. I have as much as anyone personally invested in this Marathon, but now is not the time to divert resources away from critical recovery efforts, close more roads just so some people can run a race, and invite thousands of people into a city that is only partially functioning with electricity, mass transit, and other basic utilities impaired.”
Many runners, and NYC residents, took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the decision to go ahead with the marathon. One woman told Gothamist she would use her race number to take a bus to Staten Island, but rather than running the race, she planned to stay to help those displaced by the storm.
“I cannot start a 26.2 mile run in Staten Island—people are missing, stranded, in need of resources. Brooklyn and Queens have equal devastation. Parts of Manhattan are without electricity, water, major hospitals are closed. The Bronx too has its own challenges…Sunday morning I will catch the marathon bus to Staten Island. Not planning to run. Plan to volunteer instead and gather resources (extra clothes, bottles of water, food from runners at the start). Let's not waste resources and attention on a foot race. Who is with me?"
A runner on Staten Island who preferred not to be named said she would have preferred the race be canceled or postponed from the beginning. But says the runners who are in the city as a result of the marathon should provide extra helping hands in the wake of the disaster.
“All that money has already been spent (to host the race). It’s been paid out. It’s all paid for. What can we do now?” she said. “Now we can use the race to raise more money to go directly to the relief...We have this great big group of volunteers (runners), let’s use them. Let’s set up a text number for those watching the live broadcast, have the runners wear T-shirts with the number. I think people forget that these (runners) are people, and I think they would be willing to help in every way they can.”