DEVASTATING CHOICE FOR A DEVASTATED CITY

FINISHED

A visibly emotional NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg stood alongside New York City Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson in the New York City Marathon media center tonight in Central Park to explain the cancellation of this year’s ING New York City Marathon.  In the end it came down to the mounting, and near universal, criticism of the city and NYRR’s decision yesterday to move forward with the marathon just six days after the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy.

“It became clear throughout the week that the marathon, one of the best days in the life of the city, had become divisive and controversial,” said Wolfson to the collected media.  “It grew over the course of the week, and those of us who love this city, and those of us who love this race recognize it wasn’t the marathon if it wasn’t a unifying event.”

With the “highest of hopes” and best of intentions, Ms. Wittenberg and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg thought that by staging the marathon as planned in the wake of the devastating storm that they could help heal the city, as the marathon had previously done after 9-11.

But the 2001 marathon was seven weeks removed from the grim day the Twin Towers fell in lower Manhattan, one of the sections of the city which took a heavy blow on Monday.  The difference in time made all the difference.  The seven-week time frame in 2001 gave the city a needed grieving period which then allowed the marathon to serve as a mechanism of healing, resurrection and defiance.  The six-day window between Sandy and Sunday’s marathon was simply too small to accommodate the same arc of emotions, especially when so many people were still dealing with shattered lives rather than merely disappointed racing dreams.

New Yorkers were in heavy opposition to holding the marathon, many runners, too. Even the New York Police Union asked for the race to be postponed.

“Everything was discussed,” said Wittenberg when asked if there had been any discussion of moving the marathon to another date.  “We began with what could we run?  We talked about postponing it, but runners from around the world and nation were here now.”

“We talked about having a ten-mile race,” added Wolfson, “but it didn’t make sense.  It’s the five-borough race that unifies the city.”

Even an elites-only option around 2007′s Olympic Trials Marathon course in Central Park was considered before it, too, was set aside as inappropriate for the times. Continue reading

CANCELLED!!!!

Bowing to the rising tide of criticism about their decision to go forward with this Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon in the savage wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg have now cancelled the event.

Joint statement:

“The Marathon has been an integral part of New York City’s life for 40 years and is an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch.  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.  The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination.  We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it. 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 that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.  The New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead for participants.”

There will be a news briefing at 6:00 PM at 67th and Central Park West/NYRR Media Center

More as developing…

DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON’T

DEVASTATION

There was no right answer in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.  Instead organizers of the New York City Marathon were faced with a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t proposition.

What a conundrum for New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYRR president Mary Wittenberg after Superstorm Sandy whipsawed into the eastern seaboard this past Monday just six days before the 42nd ING New York City Marathon was scheduled to run through New York’s five boroughs.

After short, but (what I assume to be) careful consideration, the mayor decided on Thursday that the marathon should go forward.  His rationale centered on both the economic power of the event (last year it generated $340 million in economic impact), and the metaphoric resilience it would represent to his stricken city.  He bolstered his decision by explaining how electrical power should be returned to most of the city by this weekend, and, given that the race is held on Sunday, a light traffic day, there would be less call for city police on the streets to monitor the marathon’s safety.

For her part Wittenberg explained how the marathon course, itself, had been spared by the savage storm, how NYRR would use private security and transportation to release the strain on city services which would be needed for storm relief, and announced the institution of a marathon Race to Recovery Fund with an initial contribution by the NYRR, the Rudin Family, and sponsor ING to the tune of $2.6 million.

Nevertheless, the tide of criticism has been mounting steadily, coming not just from affected citizens of the five boroughs – especially from hard-hit Staten Island, staging ground for the marathon start – but from runners alike. A typical response went like this:  “now is not the time to divert resources away from critical recovery efforts, close more roads just so some people can run a race, and invite thousands of people into a city that is only partially functioning with electricity, mass transit, and other basic utilities impaired.”

This is the fine line that Bloomberg and Wittenberg had to tread. Continue reading