NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to sell the New York City Marathon as a symbolic victory for the city after a devastating storm, invoking two of the biggest symbols of them all — Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.
The former mayor, Bloomberg said, made the right decision by holding the marathon less than two months after the 2001 terror attacks: "It pulled people together, and we have to find some ways to express ourselves and show our solidarity with each other."
Then, he kept talking.
"You have to keep going and doing things, and you can grieve, you can cry and you can laugh all at the same time," he said.
And once again, the city cringed, hearing another false note that renewed familiar criticism that New York's billionaire businessman mayor is tone-deaf to suffering during a crisis. By the time Bloomberg changed course three hours later Friday and called off the world's largest marathon, he already had offended a passel of flood-weary New Yorkers.
"He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with," fumed Joan Wacks, whose waterfront condo in Staten Island was under 4 feet of water. "He's supposed to be the mayor of all the city, but he's really the mayor of Manhattan."
It was a rare reversal for Bloomberg, who's known for sticking by his decisions, however unpopular. He's built a reputation for being an efficient, independent-minded pragmatist in office, a philanthropist and public health innovator, and he has gotten praise for the city's preparedness for the storm.
In his first comments Saturday since canceling the race, Bloomberg continued to defend his belief that the event could have gone on but conceded the controversy had become a distraction.
"I still think that we had the resources to do both," Bloomberg told WCBS-TV during a visit to Queens. "There are lots of people in this city — some hurt, some not. It's a big part of our economy."
"But it was just becoming so divisive that whether it's a good idea or not, we just don't need the distraction."
To the people who came from all over the world for the race, Bloomberg said he would tell them: "I'm sorry. I fought the battle, and sometimes things don't work out."
As the mayor was speaking, he was met by catcalls from Queens residents angry about the city's response to the storm.
It was not the first time that the mayor has seemed out of synch with the people he leads.
There was the post-Christmas blizzard that dumped 2 feet of snow on the city in 2010, when the mayor raised hackles by encouraging New Yorkers to enjoy the snow or see a Broadway show to help the city's economy. Residents said the mayor failed to appreciate the outer-borough New Yorkers stranded by snow drifts that hadn't been plowed, unable and without the money to go to the theater.
There was a long-running feud about Sept. 11 victims' remains that were recovered in downtown Manhattan five years after the attacks. A victim's family member, Diane Horning, said then that the mayor indicated he didn't identify with families wanting their loved ones' remains because he wanted to donate his body to science.