Stop the New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon 2009

New York City Marathon 2009 (Photo credit: Saucy Salad)

Here’s the ground situation: lower Manhattan is in the dark, with thousands upon thousands of senior citizens trapped in unheated high rise apartments, with many beginning to run short of food and water. Parts of Staten Island are a scene of mass destruction, with several dozen dead or missing, with untold numbers of homes damaged or destroyed. There are reports of looting in waterlogged and damaged Coney Island.  The subways are half functional at best. The roads gridlocked and gas is in such short supply the police are being called out to break-up fights at area gas stations.

And in less than 48 hours, tens of thousands of runners will mass on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, lining up to take their part in the annual  New York City Marathon this Sunday.

On almost a practical level, it is a disaster. The Marathon can only function with the aid of hundreds of city employees ranging from police officers to sanitation workers, men and women are more urgently needed elsewhere, like helping out some of those elderly people in high rises. It also relies on thousands of volunteers to hand out water to runners –something that is no doubt patently offensive to the many New York City residents who, thanks to the deluge of water from Hurricane Sandy, have not enjoyed running water in almost a week.

And then .. Staten Island? Let’s review again. This is the place where just this week a father and son were found drowned, clutching one another in a basement. This is the place where a mother had two small children torn from her arms by raging water, where she screamed frantically, futilely begging someone, anyone to help her. This is a place where local politicians are howling they’ve not received anywhere near enough help with rescue operations and a Marathon is just about the last thing they need.

Yet city authorities say the Marathon must take place. “We have to go on,” said New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “An early step in the city’s recovery,” proclaimed New York Road Runners Chairman George Hirsch.

In Pictures: The Impact Of Hurricane Sandy

Ah, it’s all about our catharsis. People like Staten Island singer-songwriter Michelle Cleary and the more than 26,000 people who liked her Facebook page “Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon” might feel we need time for “mourning and grieving” but that’s not the New York City way. It’s been six days since Hurricane Sandy showed New York City who’s the boss.  Time to move on folks!

But then there is this: The Marathon is a major economic powerhouse, responsible in raising an estimated $340 million in revenue annually. “It’s a big economic generator,” City Controller John Liu proclaimed. “The event … delivers tremendous economic activity,” concurred  Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

The truth comes out. In the city where Goldman Sachs got its power back runs a private generator while the rest of lower Manhattan waits in the dark, money always comes first. There is, it seems, nothing more cathartic than cold cash.

In Pictures: Downtown New York After Hurricane Sandy

Addendum: New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio recanted this afternoon, and is now calling for the Marathon to be postponed. “The needs are simply too great to divert any resources from the recovery,” he wrote in an email to the New York Times.

Addendum Two: The Marathon is now cancelled. See more here.

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