NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City canceled its annual marathon on Friday, reversing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s earlier decision to go forward with Sunday’s race, as it had become a lightning rod for residents frustrated by the disastrous aftermath of megastorm Sandy.
The decision came after a growing number of storm victims, some runners, and other politicians criticized Bloomberg’s decision earlier in the week to go forward with the marathon, one of the world’s most popular sporting events. They said the race, which had been expected to draw more than 40,000 runners, would divert critical police and other resources.
Bloomberg, hours after he repeated plans for the race to take place, issued a statement in which he said the event had become a “source of controversy and division” and would be scrubbed.
Some people had set up online petitions calling for runners to boycott the 26.2-mile competition, or to run backward from the starting line in protest.
Some runners, hearing of the canceled race, were frustrated that the mayor and the marathon organizers could not make a firm decision from the start.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Christopher Miller, 34, of New Rochelle, New York, who would have been running his fourth New York City marathon. “Our hearts go out to people for their suffering, and also to the thousands who came from out of town and will leave without accomplishing what they set out to do months ago.”
Sandy, which brought a record storm surge to coastal areas, killed at least 102 people after slamming into the U.S. Northeast on Monday. Forty-one died in New York City, about half of them in Staten Island, which was overrun by a wall of water.
Earlier on Friday at a press briefing on recovery efforts from the storm, Bloomberg had stood by his decision to hold the race, saying it showcased New York’s resilience and would lift the city’s spirits. He drew parallels with the decision a decade ago not to cancel or postpone the marathon after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But in the past few days, the race quickly turned into a symbol of the haves and have-nots from the storm, which devastated some areas but left others - such as the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Bloomberg lives - relatively untouched.
Many people had said the billionaire mayor seemed preoccupied with a recreational event while they and their neighbors were suffering. They also were angered by a New York Post report on Friday that the race organizer was using generators in Central Park for communications and other operations while millions of people in the region remained without heat, hot water and electricity.
In announcing the race had been called off, Bloomberg insisted it would not have required diverting resources from the recovery effort.
However, he said, “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 said the New York Road Runners Club, the organizers of the race, would have additional information in the days ahead for race participants.
While many New Yorkers had said they did not think it was appropriate to go ahead with the race after the storm, some had said they had thought the marathon would help the city.
“I think it could be uplifting,” Denise Sioris, who was waiting for a bus near Central Park, said Friday morning. “You’ve got all these people here who came a long way just for this.”
Reporting by Martha Graybow, Edith Honan, Emily Flitter, Michelle Nichols, Anna Louie Sussman and Phil Wahba; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Paul Simao