Viewpoint: Why They Should Cancel the NYC Marathon

Allowing it to continue means hundreds of workers will have to focus on a road race instead of the more immediate needs of a city crippled by Hurricane Sandy

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Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images

Runners make their way through Queens during the 2011 ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2011

History is full of uplifting, utterly improbable tales of sports teams and athletic events lifting up communities — even whole nations — devastated by loss or reeling from upheaval. Hollywood, of course, does this based-on-true-events genre as well as anyone, with movies like Invictus, We Are Marshall and countless others celebrating the enduring ideal of the inspirational underdogs. Then there are those unforgettable, heart-stopping moments in one’s own life (Mike Piazza’s monumental home run against Atlanta at Shea Stadium in 2001, in front of 40,000 disbelieving fans just 10 days after 9/11, for instance) when the world of sports seems the only realm capable of awing and uniting us at the same time.

Maybe this restorative element of sports is at least part of what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had in mind when he recently announced that despite the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in all five of the city’s boroughs — and New Jersey, Connecticut and a dozen other states — the Nov. 4 New York City Marathon will go ahead as planned.

(MORE: Live Updates from Sandy’s Aftermath)

That’s right. With three dozen New Yorkers killed (and scores of others from the Caribbean to New England dead or missing) and the likelihood of the discovery of more bodies still high; with millions of people in New York and the tristate region without power, heat or, in many cases, fresh food; with the city’s subways, buses and roadways in a state of schizoid paralysis; with the estimated bill for the cleanup and recovery from the devastation soaring toward $50 billion over who knows how many years and how many cost overruns, delays and disruptions; and finally, with a city of 8 million people still grappling with the emotional, psychological and financial body blows it’s endured over the past several days, Bloomberg thinks the road race should go on.

“There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on [this race],” Bloomberg said at a news briefing on Oct. 31. “We have to have an economy … 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.”

(MORE: A City of Light and a City of Darkness: How Sandy Created Two Manhattans)

Yes, of course, the marathon — in a normal year — pours an estimated $340 million into the city. In an economy as battered and fragile as ours has been for the past several years, that kind of number is hard to ignore.

Then there’s what might be called the emotional argument. Bloomberg used it in his briefing, insisting that those New Yorkers killed by Sandy would want us all to go on, to push up our sleeves and spit on our hands and, for their sake, get back to the noble work of … what? Hosting a marathon? Less than a week after they and scores of others died? Sorry, but that sort of reasoning is specious, at best.

Some who support keeping the marathon on schedule this year will no doubt point to, again, 2001, reminding us that after 9/11, the marathon went on as planned. Compelling as that might be, the 2011 marathon was not only run two months after the World Trade Center attacks, but it also took place in a city that was — physically, at least — unscathed beyond the appalling, gaping wound in Lower Manhattan.

(MORE: The Race Goes On: Despite Floods and Crippled Transportation, NYC Marathon Will Proceed as Planned)

But beyond all of the touchy-feely notions about whether or not the marathon should go on, Bloomberg’s decision not to cancel the race is, ultimately, a profound and irresponsible error in judgment. Inviting tens of thousands of people, many from out of town, to run through the streets of New York less than a week after the biggest Atlantic storm in history raked the city and leveled entire neighborhoods means that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of cops, emergency and hospital personnel, sanitation workers and others who are needed right now to continue the recovery effort — and, in all probability, to save lives that are still in the balance — all of these men and women will have to spend precious hours concentrating on a road race instead of the critical needs of their fellow citizens. Yes, the marathon runs so smoothly every year thanks to thousands of volunteers, but that hardly negates the fact that city services are, to a greater or lesser extent, involved in its often thrilling annual triumph.

At the very least, the marathon can and should be postponed for, say, one month. After all, the race’s organizers themselves take great (and rightful) pride in stressing how nimble they are when dealing with even colossal obstacles. In the end, it makes no difference — no difference at all — if the marathon goes off without a hitch. But what if one person dies because a great city’s already strained, compromised resources are diverted from a more urgent task at hand?

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg can live with that risk. As a man and as a mayor, though, he will be diminished by having taken it.

(PHOTOSThe Toil After the Storm: Life in Sandy’s Wake)

MORE: In the Eye of the Storm: Capturing Sandy’s Wrath

82 comments
brooklynite4321
brooklynite4321

Sorry, but I have a hard time worrying about the thousands of runners who might be "inconvenienced" if the marathon is postponed. Does anyone honestly believe that the race this year is going to have a significant impact on the local economy, relative to the inconceivable destruction and loss of life that NYers are STILL grappling with? As for those folks here questioning whether the writer of the editorial or those who agree with him are "real new Yorkers" -- here's a clue: Real New Yorkers take care of their own first, before pulling on their shorts and running around the city. Got it?

TurtleRunner
TurtleRunner

Did no one in New York and New Jersey know that this hurricane was coming?  It was on the new constantly for days before is made land.  Listening to the news now, it sounds like no one in the Tri State area had food, blankets, water, gas, or anything else in their homes.  I realize this is a terrible tragedy, but for Pete's sake, stop the whining.  People are always looking for a hand out in America.

Tripletdad
Tripletdad

As a marathoner I am amazed that anyone would put their deisre to complete this Marathon above the needs of the people of the area.  The services required to support a marathon will take away from those in need, and a true runner who has put in the time and effort to train would want the logistics required to be put where it is needed.  I would call on all of my fellow runners to NOT run this race.  There is always another marathon, these people are suffering a once in a lifetime event.

DanielDouglas
DanielDouglas

Sorry to offend anyone who wants to run, though I feel the number of floodedout houses I've had to be in or near and the number of cold, hungry, anddistressed people I've had to talk with in the last three days morethan justifies the position I take here. 

Many are expressing outrage, but I am advocating action: To host a marathon in this momentis both myopic and decadent. If the mayor chooses to go through with it,he's only confirming peoples' worst suspicions about him - that he isan elitist oligarch aloof of his constituency even during a crisis. 

I encourage a public workers' boycott of the 2012 NYC marathon. ManyPolice, Fire, EMT, Parks, MTA and other staff live or grew up inaffected areas; many are probably helping their loved ones or cleaningout their own houses as I write this. If they simply refuse to providethe city with the human resources it needs to make the event happen, itwon't happen. We all know how many police it takes to set up barricades,re-route traffic, and monitor the proceedings. Same goes for parkstaff, DOT staff, and EMTs. If you're on the clock to work on Sunday, gowhere your services are really needed, not where they're not. If youchoose to do your job as assigned, nobody will blame you, but if youchoose to act in good conscience on behalf of those who need you mostright now, know that so many stand behind you. Please re-post widely if you agree.

LarysaDidio
LarysaDidio

Completely, absolutely, 100 percent in agreement

WorryDr
WorryDr

In another article, highlighted in this one, the author wrote "the storm has provided a silver lining for east coast participants: they may actually run faster".  We all know the value of a PR.  Just make sure you dodge those crazy obstacles that were placed on the course: cars, parts of homes, personal belongings, bodies. A person certainly deserves a $5 medal around their neck for participating this race. I suggest adding a pillow because clearly these participates can lay their head down on one with no concern or regret.

MichaelRubin
MichaelRubin

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:Although I have not been a New York City resident since 1991, I am a native of New York City, 3rd generation born (Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn and Queens). It is a city I love, a city where I was educated both at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, and educated in the streets. My parents were employed by the City their entire lives (over 60 years collectively) as were a large number of my relatives. A photo of my mother with you, signed by you, hangs in her office at home in Long Beach, New York. New York City is where I first met my wife and a place still in my heart every day.

I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I remember listening to friends in NYPD and FDNY share the horror and cry on my shoulder. I remember volunteering near Ground Zero to feed the first responders. I remember going to Shea Stadium where baseball resumed after a week or so off. I remember Mike Piazza hitting a monster home run off the Brave’s pitcher (who I don’t remember) and for a moment, the city erupting in joy. I remember the last day of the 2001 season, walking with and photographing Mets’ then-manager, Bobby Valentine, as he took the child survivors of fallen first responders on a tour of Shea Stadium.

Back then both Bud Selig and Rudy Giuliani had the good sense to wait to resume baseball and get back to the “new” normalcy. Now David Stern and you have allowed Basketball to resume with $150 seats and the NYC Marathon to resume while the city, state and region are in ruins.

While I am all for getting back to normalcy, and while the death toll pales in comparison to 9/11, so many lives have been disrupted. Over 100 homes are gone in Breezy Point-home to so many first responders. Staten Island is a war zone. On Long Island no seaside community is unaffected. The beaches of Long Beach were washed 2 blocks inland and streets and cars are covered in sand. The water line is up a few feet blocks from the ocean and a few stories next to the ocean.

So to add insult to injury, while first responders are overworked, stressed to breaking, many of whom lost their homes, you want to hold the Marathon. I am all for getting back to “normal” as soon as possible but let’s think about the impact.

You have generators sitting idly in Central Park. You have Gatorade and so much ready for the Marathon. Meanwhile people are starving and eating rations thanks to the National Guard. People are cold and without power. Roads are closed. Homes are destroyed. People are cold and powerless. Cars lack gasoline and diesel. People are homeless and displaced. When you start those generators and the opening shot fires remember those hotel rooms that could be shelter from the cold, the generators making power for the city, the gasoline that could be powering emergency and everyday vehicles, pumps for the tunnels and water and sewage treatment plants and every single first responder now tasked with keeping order during the Marathon.I am pretty sure ING can wait to have the Marathon. I know the runners can and are willing. This is the worst mistake you can make.

You can’t run again, although you might change the rules once more. I think the opening shot of the Marathon should be your final act as Mayor. If the people could even vote-which they won’t with schools closed and no way to get to polls-they should impeach you.

You sir, are a Grade A A-Hole.

Here’s a Bronx Cheer to you,

Mayor Mc16 Ounce.

Signed, a Republican with a heart, a Capitalist with a conscience,

Michael RubinPlainview, New York

dolupduk
dolupduk

only running should be by those removing debris and working to restore areas most devastated..make that the new course,,aid stations filled with daily needs, food, water, batteries (park),  everyone in need welcome to take,,,runners going back and forth from trucks replenishing supplies...winner is who (wearing pedometer) traveled 26.2 miles the fastest to give away the most to the largest amount of people.

discowhale
discowhale

Mr. Cosgrove,

first, I agree with you that the race should be cancelled.  But the idea that Mike Bloomberg's mayoral image could be diminished is laughable.  

He's ALREADY a joke!

He is the lowest kind of self-aggrandizing, self-important, misguided, party hopping politician I can think of.  Look at some of the kinds of things he supports or thinks are proper.

 .

He was a (D) when it was advantageous, then he became a (R) when THAT would help him, but his policies and ideas are the same.

He thinks disarming the populace will make them safer.

He thinks HE should decide what or how much working, thinking, buying ADULTS can eat or drink.

He's so sure of his way being the RIGHT way, he had the NYC term limit laws changed so he could run for mayor again.

He's in favor of allowing illegal immigrants permanent status, BUT he thinks ALL citizens should be fingerprinted and DNA data banked.

 .

So I think the Mayor has already diminished his image.  The marathon going on in spite of the devastation in NYC isn't the problem, it's just another symptom of Bloomberg's opinion of himself.  He can do no wrong, just ask him.  

HAIL King Bloomie!

AnnBurchill
AnnBurchill

what do the new yorkers think? they are the ones who will be there.

nchimpsky
nchimpsky

I'll tell you what-- Please explain to my mortgage company, that out of respect for the victims, that we are skipping this month's payment.   Hell, while you're at it, call my utility companies too.

Guess what Ben....they don't care.   They want money & money is predicated on an economy ...not grief.   So getting the city up & running as a tourist destination is essential.  

Speaking of essential.... columnists / editors are a dime a dozen right now.   Think about becoming a heavy equipment operator or an electrician.   Then you can help out with the cleanup.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

As a runner and someone who's not had power and gasoline not available for two weeks in the aftermath of a hurricane (with two small kids and two elderly parents).  I cant imagine having resources tied up hosting a race.  Every able bodied city and state employee that can be spared should be in those areas effected by the storm.  This is a "no-brainer".

Paterick
Paterick

I agree with this author and I am a marathon runner.  This is serious. Time is of the essence to help these people.  No time should be devoted to this marathon right now.  Postpone the marathon.

JustMe711
JustMe711

I totally agree with You all !!  This race should have been put on the back burner or something....If these people wanted to "do something" for NY, how bout helping with the rescue and recovery, or help people at shelters ??  Priorities people...priorities !!  SMH !!

Runner
Runner

I am running the marathon on Sunday and am taking the opportunity to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  People have been very generous with their donations so far.  The relief organizations need cash and this is a good way to help.  I will be thinking of all the victims of this horrific storm.  

mauzi2@yahoo.com
mauzi2@yahoo.com

As both a New Yorker and a marathoner, I absolutely agree with Ben Cosgrove. The city's stretched resources -- medical, emergency and public safety -- should be focused on our hurricane-ravaged community. In the wake of the damage and trauma caused by Sandy, the festive tone of the marathon is in poor taste, and makes a mockery of the need and suffering of profoundly affected citizens. The new slogan on the NYC marathon website "Race to Recover," is embarrassingly self-serving. If you want to help this city recover, race to volunteer at a shelter or a parks clean up. 

rswhittenberger
rswhittenberger

I agree that this author is obviously not a runner. We're tougher than hurricanes. I understand that people have died and others are not getting paid, but I don't see why that means 50,000 people can't run their marathon. I don't see how canceling the race will actually help anyone. Do you think that instead of taking the 2-5 hours to run 26.2 miles, the racers will volunteer if the race is canceled?

NYC economy is taking a big hit from the storm already. Why would you want to take away such a big boost?

This year will definitely be difficult. There will be a smaller showing. Runners will have to share rooms or look for kindred souls to take them in. The logistics will be a nightmare.

But runners run, even when it's tough. They paid for this marathon, they bought their flights, they ran through pain, rain, and busy lives to get to this point. Telling them they can't run won't help the dead or the new yorkers struggling.

avidrunner
avidrunner

I am a marathoner and I am in disbelief that NYC would hold this marathon after major destruction while recovery is urgent. Marathoners are so focused after months of training that they can't see the whole picture and are unable to think of the needs of others. A huge marathon such as NYC requires a lot of city services not to mention food and water for runners while residents of staten and brooklyn are hungry. Makes no sense at all.

MykeChaz
MykeChaz

They are trying to call it the "Race to Recover".  To me it is Bloomberg's "Race of Disgrace"

ChristineAmara
ChristineAmara

I think the marathon needs to be cancelled as a road race right now. It is not the time, for so many reasons. 

However, if the marathoners wanted to help out, and pitch in with the Red Cross or other services, I think it would be - phenomenal.  

Have the marathoners wear their numbers, as they reach out to the people of New York City, home of one of the biggest marathons in the world.

BonnieKeeler
BonnieKeeler

I disagree. You are obviously not a New Yorker or a runner.