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Cancelling the NYC Marathon was the right thing to do

Written By imam santoso on Sunday, November 4, 2012 | 6:26 AM

In a more benign season they would have been running the New York City Marathon today. Tens of thousands of runners would have gathered, as they have done each year since 1970, at the Staten Island end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to wend their way through the streets of all 5 of New York City’s boroughs, ending in Manhattan’s Central Park.

But this is not that season. And the fact that, for the first time in 42 years, the New York City Marathon is not being run, is testament to the strength of our representative form of government and to the generosity of heart and spirit that dwells within us all.

Cancelling the race was not an easy decision for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was costly for businesses that had prepared to accommodate the event. It was bitter disappointment for the runners, many of whom had traveled here from around the world at no small expense, and had trained rigorously for the grueling competition.

And cancellation was a blow to the city’s pride, its can-do spirit. New Yorkers are not inclined to admit there are some things even their great city cannot easily handle. But calling off the Marathon was the right thing to do.

The howling winds of Hurricane Sandy visited death, destruction and darkness upon us. The storm, of historic proportions for much of the East Coast and certainly New York City a weeks ago, left nearly two dozen New Yorkers dead – at least 22 of them on Staten Island. Many homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. Many Staten Island neighborhoods were devastated or left a shambles.

Electric power here is still out for thousands of Con Ed customers in numerous areas from St. George to Tottenville. Many streets were impassable, due to flooding, storm debris, or downed trees and power lines. Telephone service is still spotty. Transportation services were disrupted for day. Hospitals were running on emergency power. Grocery stores were shuttered, their perishable goods rendered unfit for sale. Gasoline is still in short supply.

Similar conditions can be found, to varying degrees, in the other boroughs.

It was against this backdrop that the decision to cancel the Marathon was made.

New York City officials, and organizers of the Marathon insisted that the race would not divert resources from the recovery effort. We think they were mistaken.

The Marathon would have required the services of thousands of police, firefighters and sanitation workers. It would have diverted the use of hundreds of buses. It would have closed streets, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The entire route of the Marathon, and areas nearby, would have required priority attention from utility workers, to be sure it was safe for the displaced automobile traffic and number of pedestrians it would have generated. The race tied up dozens of portable electricity generators so they could be used for the comfort and convenience of the runners.

The Marathon, for all its meaning to New York City’s image and community sense, is not essential. It has no claim to priority access to those resources. Proceeding with what some argue is a relatively frivolous diversion while tens of thousands of New Yorkers are suddenly rendered cold and homeless by a natural disaster would have been a serious mistake.

Going ahead with the race would have been a shameful distortion of civic priorities. Our fellow citizens unambiguously agreed, and raised their voices in protest. Even some who stood to lose money if the race was canceled were steadfast in their opposition. An online poll by the Advance found little sentiment for going ahead with the race.

We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for heeding those calls.

We also applaud the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the race each year, for recognizing that going forward with the race might have permanently damaged their reputation, and perhaps the event itself.

We sympathize with the runners who were denied the opportunity to compete in this World Class event. And we are impressed that some of them chose to lend a hand in the effort to repair our damaged city.

History will not record the cancellation of the 2012 New York City Marathon as a failing of the city or its leadership. Quite the opposite: This year will be remembered as the time New Yorkers made the well-being of their city the top priority, and rallied, as only they can do in times of crisis.

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