New York – As New York City continues to pick up the pieces following Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city must continue moving forward—including going ahead with the now controversial New York City Marathon.
The decision to carry on with the Marathon has sparked a firestorm of controversy.
In a press conference on Friday, Bloomberg said the marathon offers the city a chance to “show solidarity with one another.”
“If you remember going back to 9/11, I think Rudy (Giuliani) made the right decision running the marathon.”
While the blue and orange finish line is in place in Central Park with no superstorm debris in sight, little else is normal with the this year’s ING Marathon.
The course will be the same since there was little damage but getting to the finish line could still be an adventure for runners from outlying areas.
Such is life in Sandy's aftermath — disrupted trains, planes, buses and ferries, along with flooded buildings, blocked roads and knocked out power.
While Bloomberg has assured that no resources will be diverted from storm victims for the mammoth size event, others say this is not the only issue.
City Council member Domenic Recchia Jr., called plans to hold the race "just wrong" in light of the ongoing misery among residents with no food, shelter or electricity.
Asked about the criticism from Recchia and others, New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said a city going through a crisis must find the right time to move forward. She believes Sunday can be that day.
"It's hard in these moments to know what's best to do," she said. "The city believes this is best to do right now."
The marathon brings an estimated $340 million into the city. Organizers will also use it as a backdrop to raise money for recovery efforts. Race organizer NYRR will donate $1 million to the fund and said more than $1.5 million in pledges already had been secured from sponsors.
Wittenberg said postponing the race would have cost local businesses significant amounts of revenue, because many of the nearly 30,000 out-of-town entrants would be unable to re-book flights and hotel rooms.
Some runners will take ferries to the start on Staten Island as in past years. After the storm, organizers initially planned to use only buses, but the city wanted the ferry to be involved. Bloomberg expected full ferry service to resume by Saturday.
Runners from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, with trouble reaching Manhattan, will be bused directly from those areas to the start. Organizers planned to release complete details on transportation Friday.
Many runners were still scrambling to get to New York, aided somewhat by the reopening of the area's three major airports. Wittenberg predicted more than 8,000 of the 47,500 entrants originally expected won't make it.
Wittenberg said runners who had to cancel did not seem concerned about losing their entry fee, per race policy, but were simply relieved they would be guaranteed a spot in the popular race next year.
The course winds from Staten Island to Brooklyn, then Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and back into Manhattan for the finish in Central Park. The park was still closed Thursday, but will be ready by Sunday. The route has never included areas hit hard by flooding, such as Coney Island and Lower Manhattan
Meantime, many locals prepared for the race while coping with the messes Sandy left behind.
Latif Peracha was evacuated from the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca. While his building is flooded, his sixth-floor apartment is fine, but he can't move back for at least another week. On Thursday, he walked across the Williamsburg Bridge from where he is staying in Brooklyn to collect his running gear from his apartment.
He knew his first marathon was going to be special; now he believes it's so much more.
"I think it'll be a great testament to the city's resilience," he said.
Dave Reeder was supposed to fly from Denver to LaGuardia on Thursday with his wife and two children. Then they saw the photos of the flooded airport. Should they still try to make the trip?
The race felt a bit "frivolous," he said.
Hearing Bloomberg on TV convinced him to try and he hoped to volunteer in relief efforts while in New York.
His family planned to watch from three points along the course, but subway closures may prevent it.
If they can't, it has practical implications for Reeder: He has type 1 diabetes, and his wife carries supplies he might need during the race. Reeder, who is running as part of Team JDRF to raise money for diabetes research, said from the Denver airport Thursday night that his flight was a go.
Julie Culley of Clinton, N.J., was stranded in Arlington, Va., when the storm hit. It turned out to be a blessing because she had power and could train.
An Olympian in the 5,000 meters, Culley is making her marathon debut. Her parents own a vacation home on Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore, which was rocked hard by Sandy.
"I think our family probably escaped the worst of it," said Culley, whose parents were in Clinton when the storm hit. "I've seen terrible pictures of houses uprooted out of their foundations and houses completely knocked out."
Her parents told her if Long Beach Island is open Sunday, they'll go there and watch her on TV.
"Now that we know for the most part what the damage is and the storm's over," Culley said, "and we can put everything behind us and focus on the recovery effort in the state, I think now it's time to shift focus toward the marathon again."
Runner's World magazine is converting its annual pre-marathon party Friday into a free meal for anybody still displaced by the storm. NYRR canceled Friday's opening ceremony and a 5-kilometer run Saturday to focus all resources on race day.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.