The New York City Marathon was canceled amid growing criticism that holding the race so soon after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the city would drain resources and be an affront to residents recovering from floods.
“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Road Runners, which organizes the race, said yesterday in a statement. “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 being done to recover from the storm.”
The marathon has become a part of autumn in New York, a day when the city turns out to cheer the best runners in the world as well as joggers lucky enough to gain entry. It was run weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, even as crews worked to find human remains and clear the mound of rubble from the collapsed World Trade Center towers.
“The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination,” the statement from the mayor and the NYRR said.
About 47,000 participants had registered for the race, including about 20,000 from overseas, according to NYRR spokesman Richard Finn. The event accounts for 40,000 more hotel rooms than usual per day for at least five days, said NYC & Co., the city’s tourism office.
Toni Chaplin-Armer, an executive assistant for University of Cumbria Vice Chancellor Peter Strike in Carlisle, England, spent about $3,500 and arrived in New York on Nov. 1 eager to run the race for the first time.
“I’m angry,” Chaplin-Armer, 48, said in a telephone interview after learning of the cancellation. “To cancel at this late stage, it has a negative effect for people that came from outside New York. I can appreciate how the locals feel, but I don’t appreciate the fact that I flew all the way out here and then this happened.”
An economic study done for the NYRR estimated the city reaps a $340 million economic impact from the marathon, not including promotion of the city in televised coverage.
Jonathan Vogel, 42, an attorney from Charlotte, North Carolina, was minutes from driving to the airport to catch his flight to New York for the race when he heard the news.
“I feel for those people who already made the trip, but I think it pales in comparison to what the people of New York and New Jersey are going through,” Vogel, who grew up in Marlboro, New Jersey, said in a telephone interview. “I’ll look forward to running the marathon next year.”
The marathon drew resentment from New Yorkers who booked hotel rooms after their homes became flooded or uninhabitable due to lack of electricity, then faced displacement from runners who reserved rooms months in advance. Room shortages were exacerbated by hotels closed due to storm damage or power outages.
“It’s been very difficult and frustrating to turn people down from downtown and the suburbs,” said Karen Yam, a desk clerk at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Metropolitan on Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan. About 60 to 70 of the property’s 775 rooms were to be occupied by people in town for the race, she said.
The running club had said it would donate about $1 million to storm relief efforts in the city and asked each of its participants in the 26.2-mile (42-kilometer) race to match the donation of $26.20, which would have collected another $1 million to help victims.
About three hours before the race was canceled, Bloomberg had said at a news conference that the marathon would go on.
“New York has to show that we are here and that we’re going to recover,” he told reporters in City Hall. “You have to keep going and doing things, and you can grieve, you can cry and you can laugh all at the same time. That’s what human beings are good at.”
As the day proceeded, an increasing number of city officials, including Comptroller John C. Liu, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, former city Comptroller William Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, came out against holding the race.
They were joined by Councilman Domenic Recchia of Coney Island, one of the hardest-hit city neighborhoods, who said in a statement, “To host the New York City Marathon in the middle of what is complete devastation and a crisis in parts of this city is just wrong.”
Quinn, Liu, Thompson, Stringer and de Blasio have expressed interest in running for mayor next year. The mayor, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is legally barred from running for re-election.
“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 and the NYRR said in announcing the decision not to hold the event.
Mary Wittenberg, president and chief executive officer of the NYRR, said at a news conference that blankets, water, food and portable toilets to be used for the marathon will be available to help in relief efforts.
“From the earliest days this week, the marathon ceased to be about running, and it was all about how best to aid New York City,” she said.
The city of 8 million is still recovering from a storm that the mayor said killed at least 41 people in New York. It left 4.8 million people in the region without power and caused as much as $50 billion in damage.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents the city’s police officers, called for the marathon to be postponed “until the city is fully recovered.”
“Parts of our city are completely devastated and our members have left their own families and problems to help the city work through this disaster,” Lynch said in a statement. “Valuable police resources should not be redeployed to cover what is essentially a citywide party.”