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New York City Marathon Canceled Amid Outrage

By  Jill Colvin and Nigel Chiwaya | November 2, 2012 5:28pm | Updated on November 2, 2012 10:32pm

NEW YORK — The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday night, after days of outrage over Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to hold the event in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“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 mayor's office said in a statement, after days of insisting the race would go on.

While the marathon "has always brought our city together.... We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," the city said.

"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 marathon had faced widespread opposition from elected officials, police and many runners that had intensified in recent days, as bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble in Staten Island.

"You know, last Tuesday, it seemed that the best thing for New York on Sunday would be moving forward, and as the days went on, it just got to the point where that wasn't the case," said Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners, who appeared visibly distraught during a press conference announcing the cancelation Friday.

“This is what we feel we need to do," Wittenberg added. "This is the right thing to do right now.”

Wittenberg said organizers are now looking to expand the half-marathon next year and that they will look for ways to reallocate resources that had been earmarked for this weekend's race.

She said that every morning this week she has woken up thinking about the two boys who drowned in Staten Island.

"You help in the ways you know you can help," Wittenberg said. "We can help by driving a lot of money and a lot of attention for New Yorkers in pain."

Hundreds of runners were gathered at the Javitz Center Friday afternoon, excitedly picking up their running bibs, when they learned the marathon wasn't going to happen. Many said they were shocked, angry and disappointed.

Malin Brostrom, 37, from Sweden, flew in Friday morning with a large group of other Swedish runners.

"We're mad, not because they canceled, but because they waited till the very last minute to do it," said Brostrom, echoing many fellow racers.

'We're sensitive to what's going on in New York, but why, why, why did they wait so long?," she said. "This bag I'm holding [her runner's packet], this cost me more than $3,000 — that's what it cost for my trip."

Some racers at the Marathon Expo said they were going to try to run anyway on Sunday, wearing their bibs.

Elected officials who had slammed the decision to go forward with the marathon commended the
mayor for the cancelation, but said they hope the marathon will be postponed to a later date.

“In deciding not to hold the New York City Marathon, he has made a sensitive and prudent decision that will allow the attention of this city to remain focused on its recovery,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement.

“I continue to believe that the marathon is a powerful symbol for New York's resilience and an economic engine that we cannot sacrifice," Stringer added. "It is my hope that the marathon will be rescheduled for a date in the near future when we can cheer on participants as one city united in

City Councilman Peter Vallone, who was among the first to demand that the race be called off, said the city did the right thing.

“It should have been done earlier,” Vallone said, “But this is the definition of better late than never.”

“Our police officers are doing 12-hour shifts. Now they’re dead-tired," he added. "To ask these men and women to now block off street corners and divert any other resource to this would have been silly."

While Vallone said he feels bad for the thousands of people who came to the city for the event, he encouraged them all to stay and volunteer with the recovery instead.

He also said he hoped that the generators slated for use in the marathon would be diverted to neighborhoods that are still in the dark.

At the press conference announcing the cancelation Friday evening, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said that the fury over using generators for the marathon instead of allocating them to areas without power wasn't the deciding factor in canceling the race this year.

Instead, Wolfson explained, "[the decision] was symbolic of growing unhappiness of running this race while people were suffering."

George Hirsch, chairman of the board of New York Road Runners, said that there was a plan in place for the generators now that the marathon is officially off but would not elaborate on what that plan entailed.

Exhausted cops out patrolling the streets in blacked-out neighborhoods of the city Friday had slammed the decision to hold the marathon, which the mayor defended as early as Friday morning.

"It's ridiculous," said one six-year veteran of the force who said he's been working 12- to 14-hour days since Sandy hit.

"We're already stressed as it is," he added. "Now, to send 1,000 cops out for a marathon — it's ridiculous."

In the wake of the cancelation late Friday, Twitter was flooded with comments about the decision.

"Thank goodness logic prevailed and they canceled the NYC marathon," Who cares about morons like me running in a race? It was too soon."

"NYC Marathon is canceled," tweeted @EMarghezi. "I feel bad for all those people who have been training for months :( #Sandy."

"So just let this sink in, the NYC Marathon is CANCELED, NOT POSTPONED," tweeted @db. "Should've just been postponed. Bad decision."

A few kept a sense of humor, despite the contention and public outrage.

"The bad news? The NYC Marathon was canceled. The good news? @paulyshore won't be seen in track shorts. #EverybodyBreathe," tweeted @Shoq.

With reporting by Irene Plagianos.