Mayor Bloomberg cancels NYC Marathon: Did he have a choice?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYC Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, had to be called off to avoid controversy. There's disappointment among runners, but also understanding.

Seth Wenig/AP
Pedro Cabrera, who was working at the starting line in the New York borough of Staten Island Friday, stops setting up fence and secures his company's gear after the cancellation of the NYC Marathon. There was mounting criticism that holding a race was inappropriate while the region is still recovering from hurricane Sandy.

For days, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the New York City Marathon would go on despite critics who complained the city should cancel the event because of hurricane Sandy.

On Friday evening, two days before the event was to take place, Mr. Bloomberg succumbed to the outcry, announcing the marathon would be cancelled.

“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,” said  Bloomberg in a statement. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.”

Those who argued the marathon should be canceled said it was disrespectful to Staten Island, which suffered heavy losses from the storm. More than 200,000 Manhattan residents still don’t have electricity, and the tabloid newspapers ran photos of generators that would be used to power the race organizers’ equipment at the finish line.

But some of the estimated 47,000 participants in the race, which starts on Staten Island, said they thought it would show the world that New York was quite alive – even if the lights were out in many places. The race itself is an international event attracting runners from all over the globe, and city businesses make millions of dollars from hotel bookings, airline tickets, and food.

To show that it was sensitive to the challenges facing New Yorkers, the organizers of the race, the New York City Road Runners Club, gave $1 million to help those in need.

Some runners say they are very disappointed. One of those is Kylie Williamson from Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Williamson, who had just been at the Javits Center to pickup her official race number, says she had been training for six months for the race.

“We could have gone to Athens or New York, but we picked New York,” says Williamson, who came with four other “support crew” Australians. “I understand the public sentiment,” says Williamson, “I get that. I did start to worry what would happen if there were protests.”

But Joey Zoneenee, a runner from Milan, Italy, says he supports the decision. “They should take those generators down to the hospitals,” he says, referring to the generators in Central Park.

The decision to cancel the race was so sudden the Road Runners Club had no information on its website. “We will have additional information in the days ahead,” said the Club on its website.

Legal experts doubt that people who have come for the race would have any success suing the race organizers.

“All contracts have liability clauses that basically says if we can’t do this, we’re not liable,” says James Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School. “The advertisers are stuck, the TV stations are stuck.”

Mr. Cohen thinks that Bloomberg made the right decision. “The notion of people dancing around in their shorts while so many people are suffering is deeply troubling.”

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