Workers assemble the finish line for the New York City Marathon, scheduled… (Richard Drew, Associated…)
NEW YORK, N.Y. — When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared before TV cameras at midday Friday, he insisted the New York City Marathon, the world's largest, would go on as scheduled this Sunday despite the ravages of super storm Sandy.
"New York has to show we are here and we are going to recover," Bloomberg said. He said the race, expected to draw 39,000 runners, would provide "something to cheer about in what has been a dismal week for a lot of people."
But hours later, Bloomberg abruptly canceled the race, bowing to mounting public and political opposition to staging a spectacle while much of Lower Manhattan and parts of other boroughs still lack electricity, most of the city's subway system is locked down due to flooding, and hotel rooms are almost impossible to find.
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In a statement, Bloomberg insisted the marathon "would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort." But he acknowledged it had become "the source of controversy and division."
"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," he added.
Bloomberg, who endorsed President Obama's reelection bid on Thursday, generally has received praise for his hands-on management since Sandy walloped the city last Sunday, causing more than 40 deaths. His decision to let the marathon proceed struck many as ill-advised, if not insensitive, and sparked the kind of vocal and passionate debate New Yorkers are famous for.
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The New York Post blared "Abuse of Power" on its front page over a photo of generators for the media tent at the Central Park finish line.
A "Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon" Facebook group started by Staten Island singer Michelle Cleary quickly drew over 41,000 "likes." Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, called for rescheduling "to focus all of the city's resources on the crucial task of helping our neighbors recover."
Getting around the city already is hard enough. With subways down, buses are impossibly crowded, traffic is near gridlock and taxis are getting scarce as the fleet runs low on gas. The city had planned to close the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, a major artery for moving fuel supplies, for six hours during the race.
Many runners already had decided not to participate this year.
Jonathan Jefferies, 65, a Manhattan business executive, said he had planned not to run his fifth marathon out of concern for police, ambulance attendants and others who assist the race. "These people are dead on their feet. I can't ask them to work on a Sunday and make sure I can have an ice pack on my knee at mile 26," he said.
"We are going to run some other day," he said. "This weekend, we are going to go out and help people."