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New York City Marathon to Run as Critics Question Timing

By  Jill Colvin and Ben Fractenberg | November 1, 2012 7:05pm | Updated on November 2, 2012 8:42am

STATEN ISLAND — As rescue workers continue to pull bodies from basements and swamps in devastated regions across the city, strained city workers, exhausted after days of around-the-clock work, are about to prepare for another event: The New York City Marathon.

But residents and community leaders still dealing with unfathomable devastation are questioning why the city would be diverting resources as neighborhoods still lie in rubble, with many now desperate for water and food, the lights expected to be out for tens of thousands for several more days and the transportation system crippled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

"It should have been delayed or postponed," said Dennis Murphy, 62, who lives in Pennsylvania and came to Staten Island — the staging area of the marathon — to help his daughter, whose house was damaged during the hurricane.

"It's time to clean up, not celebrate," he said.

Rudy Mienert, 54, who was cleaning up his property Thursday after part of his home on Cedar Grove Avenue was destroyed during the hurricane agreed.

"I don't think they should do it out of respect for people who lost their lives," Mienart said. "I think the resources are better spent helping people."

About 50,000 people are expected to flow into the city for the premiere running event, which spans 26.2 miles and passes through every borough, including many stretches that were under water during the storm.

Central Park, the location of the marathon's finishing line, remains closed by the city, due to the risk posed by fallen limbs, and downed trees remained scattered in the area Thursday afternoon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced earlier this week, however, that the marathon will go on.

“There’s tens of thousands of people who’ve come from around the world here to run," he told reporters at a press briefing at City Hall, arguing that officials expect to have most of the power restored by Sunday, and that the city needs to move on.

“There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people, we have to have an economy. There are lots of people that have come here," he said. "It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, 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."

But Borough President Jim Molinaro told the Staten Island Advance that he was shocked by the decision, calling it "crazy, asinine."

"My God. What we have here is terrible, a disaster … This is no time for a parade," he told the paper.

"Do you realize how many police officers you need for a marathon? There are people looting stores on Midland Avenue. There is looting taking place in the homes on the South Shore that were destroyed. That is where we need the police,” he said.

“The damage to South Beach is immense. John D'Amato Field doesn't exist anymore. It was blown away. The asphalt tiles in Midland Beach? Ripped up and gone. We have two feet of mud where you used to be able to walk. We have boats in the middle of streets. Cedar Grove? The houses there are flattened. And we have lost lives. And they want to hold a parade?"

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer agreed, calling Hurricane Sandy "a tragedy of historic proportions" in a statement Friday morning.

"We should...focus all of the City's resources on the crucial task of helping our neighbors recover from this disaster," the statement read. "New Yorkers deserve nothing less than to know that the entire government is focused solely on returning the City and their region back to normalcy."

A petition on Change.org had more than 4,200 signatures as of Friday morning, including those of would-be runners, begging Bloomberg and organizers to postpone the race.

"Sunday would have been my first time to stand at the starting line of the Marathon — something I have been working toward, through injuries and more, since 2008," Change.org member and Astoria resident Laura Mello wrote on the petition. "I have as much as anyone personally invested in this Marathon, but 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."

The city's police have already been working around-the-clock, on 12-hour shifts, going door-to-door in flood zones, searching for bodies, and patrolling neighborhoods that have been plunged into darkness. Cadets are also being used to control traffic at intersections with no traffic lights.

At the Central Park finish line Thursday, crews from Time Warner and Verizon were hard at work, with multiple large and small generators powering equipment — putting the finishing touches on marathon preparations, as other sections of the city sat dark.

Marathon guests have also locked down many of the city's hotel rooms — which are already in desperate demand among residents who have lost power or been evacuated because of the storm.

Bloomberg, however, defended the decision Thursday, saying resources were not being diverted by the race.

“The marathon’s not gong to redirect any focus," he said. "Keep in mind, by Sunday we’ll have electricity back Downtown. That will free up an enormous number of police. Also, a lot of the transportation needs that we have during the week aren’t there on the weekends.”

ING New York City Marathon officials declined to answer questions, and instead referred reporters to a statement that said this year’s marathon will be "dedicated to the City of New York, the victims of the hurricane, and their families."

The marathon canceled its Friday night opening ceremony and Saturday's “Dash to the Finish Line 5K" in order to "focus its full efforts on Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon and to keep Central Park as clear as possible for cleanup efforts before the race."

They have also vowed to donate $1 million — about $26.20 for very runner — to a new "Race to Recover" marathon fund to aid relief efforts to help New Yorkers impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

“New York Road Runners thoughts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy,” New York Road Runners' Mary Wittenberg said in a statement. “On Sunday, as runners cross through the five boroughs we want them to bring with them a sense of hope and resilience. The marathon is not just a race — it’s about helping NYC find its way down the road to recovery.”

The decision still left a bad taste in the mouths of many New Yorkers, including food blogger Michelle Madden, who said she was "stunned" that it was taking place.

"If they can pull it off, it will be a miracle because nobody can get into the city or out of the city." said Madden, herself as a "a refugee from the Village," where residents remain without light.

Others, however, agreed with the plan to let the show go on.

"I think whatever we can do to restore some sense of normalcy, it would be good," said David Freilicher, 59, who lives on Central Park West, and said he wanted the Marathon to continue, as a boost to Sandy-devastated local businesses. "I think it's important for the local merchants."

Alan Neuhauser contributed reporting.