Bloomberg Says ING New York City Marathon Will Go On [Update: It Won’t]

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To run or not to run — that has been the burning question in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in New York this week.

As New York continues the massive clean-up and restoration of a wounded, limping city, with millions still without power, food, water and transport, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was adamant the ING New York City marathon (rededicated as a “Race to Recover” with proceeds to relief efforts) would go on, even though the starting line is in hard-hit Staten Island. The refusal to reschedule the race has been widely protested, while observers are questioning the impact on title sponsor ING, and fellow sponsors including Timex and Asics.

“The city is a city where we have to go on,” stated Bloomberg in a press conference on Thursday, arguing that the race must go on for the cash and morale infusion. “There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy,” Bloomberg said in a news conference Thursday. “It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, 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.”

Update: At 5:21 pm Friday, the mayor’s office confirmed media rumors that the race will not go ahead on Sunday. Bloomberg told the press, “We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.” And while this means there will be no 2012 NYC marathon, New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg said canceling was the right move, telling AP, “This is what we need to do and the right thing at this time.” ING also supported the cancellation, commenting, “ING U.S. understands that many people, businesses, as well as its own New York-based employees have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy this week. The company encourages everyone to consider making a donation or to volunteer with a nonprofit that is helping with disaster-relief effort if they are able to do so.”[more]

Bloomberg had reiterated to the press on Friday before giving in to pressure, “We have to have a city going forward. New York has to show that we are here, that we are going to recover.”

Charles Gasparino of Fox Business was the first journalist to report that he’d heard from Wall Street sources that it’s off. Protesters, meanwhile, took to the web, including Tumblr (which posted the image below), Facebook and a Change.org petition, all calling on NYC to reschedule the race. Some observers were outraged that the marathon wasn’t immediately cancelled in Sandy’s wake, given that the race shuts down more than 20 miles of city roads lined with more than 1,000 police as its 26.2-mile course traverses all five city boroughs.

First responders, many of whom come from devastated Staten Island, were particularly angry at the prospect of a marathon that starts in their decimated backyard. James Molinaro, Staten Island borough president, called the mayor’s determination to hold it “crazy.” “What we have here is terrible, a disaster. If they want to race, let them race with themselves. This is no time for a parade.”

“If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon, I will scream,” tweeted New York City Councilman James Oddo. “We have people with no homes and no hope right now.”

The New York Road Runners, organizers of the race, argued that it brings $340 million to the city and that they will donate at least $1 million or $26.20 for each of the more than 40,000 runners expected to participate to aid New Yorkers affected. 

“We’re not looking to be a drain on any of the city resources,” NYRR spokesman Richard Finn told Reuters, as they announced via Facebook that this year’s run will be dedicated to victims and families of the storm. Sanitation workers, for one, would beg to differ, even though Bloomberg promised the race won’t use

Mary Wittenberg, president of the NYRR, stated, “To us the marathon really epitomizes the spirit of New York City, the vitality, the tenacity, the determination of New Yorkers. Our every effort is to once again tell the world that New York City, as the mayor would say, is open for business.” Yes, but what if the city itself isn’t fully open for business?

The Rudin Family, founding members of the marathon will donate $1.1 million while the ING Foundation committed $500,000 to storm relief.

“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 as controversial,” commented New York Road Runners chairman George Hirsch.

The stand-off prompted this comment from the New York Daily News: “We already know how this will be romanticized on Sunday, packaged in a neat little bundle for ESPN2 and local WABC viewers who happen to have working televisions in their homes. The New York Marathon will be presented to the world as a great symbol of willpower, of the city’s ability to overcome all obstacles in its way. Who needs electricity, when we can watch tens of thousands of runners testing their physical limits on our streets?”

What do you think — should the ING NYC marathon go on?

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