After Days of Pressure, Marathon Is Off
By KEN BELSON
The move was historic — the marathon has taken place every year since 1970, including the race in 2001 held two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — but seemed inevitable as opposition to the marathon swelled. Critics said that it would be in poor taste to hold a foot race through the five boroughs while so many people in the area were still suffering from the storm’s damage, and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon. Proponents of the race — notably Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, director of the marathon — said the event would provide a needed morale boost, as well as an economic one.
“It’s clear that the best thing for New York and the best thing for the marathon and the future is, unfortunately, to move on,” said Ms. Wittenberg, the chief executive of New York Road Runners, the organization that operates the marathon. “This isn’t the year or the time to run it. It’s crushing and really difficult. One of the toughest decisions we ever made.”
George Hirsch, chairman of the board of Road Runners, said officials huddled all day Friday, hoping to devise an alternate race. They considered replacing the marathon with a race that would comprise the final 10 miles of marathon, starting at the base of the Queensboro 59th Street Bridge on the Manhattan side. But that was not deemed plausible, Mr. Hirsch said.
“We still want to do something, and we’re going to do something,” he said, referring to a replacement event for the marathon. “But it won’t require generators or water.”
Among the many details that remained unclear was how the field of nearly 50,000 runners who were expected to compete in Sunday’s marathon, thousands of whom traveled to New York from other countries, might be compensated. Runners who were registered for Sunday’s race are guaranteed entry into next year’s race.
“We have a lot to work through,” Ms. Wittenberg said when asked if elite runners would still receive their appearance fees. “We appreciate the investment athletes have put into training for New York. As always we’ll be sure to be fair. I think everyone knows and will expect that of us.”
Nearly 40,000 of the 47,500 registered runners had already arrived in the city, Mr. Hirsch said.
Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Wittenberg had repeatedly stood behind the plan, insisting it was best for the city. But many runners joined a chorus of politicians and area residents this week in speaking out against the plan to stage the marathon despite the widespread damage wrought by the storm Monday night.
For days, online forums sparked with outrage against politicians and race organizers, a tone that turned to vitriol against runners, even from some other runners who accused them of being selfish.
The city was divided so bitterly that it became clear to marathon organizers that to hold the race would defeat the very purpose of it.
“The marathon is about uniting the city,” Mr. Hirsch said. “But all it was doing was dividing it. Is that what the New York City Marathon is all about? No, not at all.”
But as the criticism of the decision to hold the race escalated on Friday, Road Runners continued with its plans. Runners arrived to pick up their bibs at the Jacob K. Javits Center, elite runners spoke to reporters at the marathon’s media center in Central Park and preparations for the course were made. After lunch, board members were sent an update with little hint of what was to follow.
Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council and an ally of the mayor’s, came out against the race, saying it was not something she would have chosen to do.
Ms. Wittenberg had said several times this week that the decision to hold the race was ultimately Mr. Bloomberg’s. But she had been working around the clock to turn the event into a platform to help the city heal, both psychologically and financially.
“People are running as an example, they have children, raised money to come here, and they see this as a good, healthy thing,” said Norbert Sander, who won the 1974 marathon and now runs the Armory, an indoor track in Upper Manhattan. “People came from around the world. I think they caved to the worst elements.”
Deborah Rose, a City Council member whose district is in Staten Island, said she fully supported the decision to cancel the race, adding that she and her colleagues were imploring the mayor to change his mind about the event.
“I thought it was a gross misplacement of priorities on the mayor’s part to even consider having the marathon when there are people in Staten Island facing life-and-death situations,” she said. “I’m glad to see that the mayor had an epiphany and be sensitive to those communities that have been so impacted by the hurricane.”
She called on all the marathoners to go to Staten Island to help with the cleanup effort and to bring the clothes they would have shed at the start to shelters or other places where displaced people were in need.
“This is always a race that unites the entire city,” said Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor. “It’s something that 100 percent of the people who live here can agree on every year. When you have a significant number of people voicing real pain and unhappiness over its running, you have to hear that and take that into consideration. Something that is a celebration of the best of New York can’t become divisive.”