NEW YORK (AP) — With people in storm-ravaged areas still shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York City at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect a marathon.
They were repelled by the thought of storm victims being evicted from hotels to make room for people coming into town for the race, and the sight of big generators humming along at the finish-line tents in Central Park.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he hoped to lift spirits and unite the stricken city when he decided to press ahead with this weekend's New York City Marathon. Instead, the move became a source of strife Friday, with Bloomberg facing an outcry from politicians and ordinary New Yorkers who said this is not the time for a road race.
They complained that holding the event just six days after Superstorm Sandy would be insensitive and tie up precious resources when many people are still suffering.
Joan Wacks, whose Staten Island waterfront condo was swamped with 4 feet of water, predicted authorities will still be recovering bodies when the estimated 40,000 runners from around the world hit the streets for the 26.2-mile race Sunday, and she called the mayor "tone deaf."
"He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with," she said. "If there are any resources being put toward the marathon, that's wrong. I'm sorry, that's wrong."
At a news conference, Bloomberg defended his decision as a way to raise money for the city's recovery and boost morale after Sandy flooded neighborhoods and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands homes and businesses.
Bloomberg said New York "has to show that we are here and we are going to recover" and "give people something to cheer about in what's been a very dismal week for a lot of people."
"You have to keep going and doing things," he said, "and you can grieve, you can cry and you can laugh all at the same time. That's what human beings are good at."
Noting that street lights should be back on in Manhattan by midnight Friday and parts of the transit system are up and running again, he gave assurances that the race would not take away police officers and other resources needed in the recovery.
He also pointed out that his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, went ahead with the marathon two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and "it pulled people together."
But in a sign of the how the political mood was turning against Bloomberg, City Comptroller John Liu, an elected official who is considered a likely candidate for mayor next year, reversed course. Liu warned that it has become clear that holding the marathon this weekend would "compromise the city's ability to protect and provide for the residents most affected by the hurricane."
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called for a postponement, saying 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. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said pressing ahead "is not a decision I would have made."
One of the world's pre-eminent road races, the marathon generates an estimated $340 million for the city. This time, the marathon's sponsors and organizers have dubbed it the "Race to Recover" and intend to use the event to raise money for the city to deal with the crisis. New York Road Runners, the race organizer, will donate $1 million and said sponsors have pledged more than $1.5 million.