NYC Marathon canceled amid outcry over priorities

Updated 10:00 p.m. ET

NEW YORK The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticismthat this was not the time for a race while the region is still recovering from superstorm Sandy.

"That controversy (about holding the race) grew and division grew over the course of the week," Howard Wolfson, NYC deputy mayor for government affairs and communications, said at a press conference about the cancellation on Friday night. "Those of us who love the city and those of us who love the race realized it wasn't the marathon if it wasn't a unifying event."

Workers assemble the finish line for the New York City Marathon in New York's Central Park, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners (NYRR) which organizes the marathon, said at the press conference that officials and organizers talked about a modified race or postponing the event, but decided it was best to cancel it this year. All the supplies -- including generators, food and water -- will be redeployed to people who need it.

This is the first time the marathon has been cancelled in the event's history. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller spoke to a group of Irish runners who were extremely angry since they spent $30,000 to get to New York City in time for the marathon. About 47,000 runners were expected to compete on Sunday.

But, 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 on Sunday.

An estimated 40,000 runners from around the world had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas by this week's storm.

"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," the mayor said in a statement. "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."

Bloomberg called the marathon an "integral part of New York City's life for 40 years" and "an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch."

He still insisted that holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, but understood the level of friction.

"It is clear it that it has become the source of controversy and division," Bloomberg said. "The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination.

Earlier, Bloomberg had said he hoped to lift spirits and unite the stricken city when he decided to press ahead with this weekend's marathon. Instead, the move became a source of division Friday, with some New Yorkers - even some runners - saying this is not the time for a road race.

They complained that holding the event just six days after Sandy would be insensitive and tie up precious resources when many people are still suffering.

The marathon's start is in Staten Island, the hardest hit part of the city, with at least 19 dead.

Before the race was cancelled, some marathon runners had posted Facebook messages vowing to head to the race's starting line in Staten Island to spend the day volunteering, not racing.

Even some hotel owners took a stance on the issue. The Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, which has served as a refuge for people affected by the storm, has vowed to turn away marathoners - even those with reservations - in order to preserve rooms for storm evacuees.

"How do I tell people who have no place to go, that have no home, that have no heat, that you have to leave because I have to make room for somebody who has to run a marathon?" hotel owner Richard Nicotra told NY 1 News.

But the last-minuteness of the cancellation has many runners, some who have traveled from different parts of the world, frustrated.

"I agree that canceling it was the right move, but it the decision should have been made immediately," said Joel Schrock, who was hosting a runner for the weekend. "It's frustrating that they waited so long."

Some runners at the New Yorker Hotel in midtown -- just above the blackout zone caused by the superstorm -- were in the lobby crying when they learned the race was off. One person was curled up on a couch, sobbing.

"We spend a year on this," said Gisela Clausen of Munich. "We don't eat what we want. We don't drink what we want. And we're on the streets for hours. We live for this marathon, but we understand."

The fee to participate in the race is $250. Roberto Dell'Olmo, from Vercelli in northern Italy, said he "would like that the money I give from the marathon goes to victims."

A charity called Race 2 Recover has been started to allow marathon runners to donate their hotel rooms to NYC residents who cannot return to their homes, instead of simply cancelling them. Displaced New Yorkers can also use the website to help locate a place for them to stay on a first come first serve basis.

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