As New York City residents and much of the East Coast still endeavor to dig out from the aftermath of “super storm” Sandy, the people of the Greatest City in the World are now tasked with a second dilemma; to run or not to run?
That is the question many are asking just days after a 100-year storm decimated the five boroughs and many of the surrounding communities. And with presidential election fatigue clearly set in on many news outlets, it seems to also be the question driving headlines as the scheduled race day approaches. Do you cancel the race and potentially lose $350 million in commerce for the local economy; or do you have the race in spite of the fact it seems in such terribly poor taste?
As some of you may know, I once called New York City home. I’m more than fond of the city and still have many of my closest friends in the city and surrounding area. This side of any city where my family resides, there’s no place I’d rather be than in the Big Apple. It pains me to see coverage of the devastation and destruction. But because I lived there, I know the logistical nightmare they all must be living in the wake of Sandy.
For the average American, toppled homes and days without power may sound like the typical aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. But what the average American, that has never spent time living in that city, probably struggles to comprehend is how without public transportation that great city quickly grinds to a halt. It goes from The City that Never Sleeps to a ghost town of isolation and disconnect.
When my hometown Nashville, Tennessee faced a similar 100-year storm in May of 2010; our city too was shut down and brought to a standstill. The local economy took a major hit, lives were lost, and countless families were left with nothing. While there were certainly many differences between Nashville’s storm and Sandy – including national media coverage – the one that is the most glaring is the local community’s ability to care for itself.
As simple as it may sound, in Nashville we have trucks, we have boats, we have SUV’s, we have pontoons, kayaks, ATV’s, and every other means of getting around and/or helping in the recovery. The average New Yorker has none of that. He or she doesn’t even have a car to get from A to B if he or she wanted to. They are completely dependent on City government to restore the status quo; and they have been left wanting.
I’ll spare you the political rant about the danger of being that reliant on government. It is certainly a conversation worth having, just not one suited for the moment. But why it matters in terms to run or not to run is because the City has not yet fulfilled its duty to restore the status quo – the most basic responsibility of government at any level; and yet we’re still talking about whether or not to run a road race?
From where I sit, (G)overnment has but a short list of actual duties: keep us safe, keep the water running and the power on, and do no harm. That’s it. We make political footballs out of the rest; but that’s it. People may want more, but they have no right to expect anything but the basics – especially in a time of crisis.
Viewing Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to run the marathon through that prism – safe, water and lights, do no harm – makes said decision absolutely unconscionable. Public transportation has yet to get up and running. Power’s not been fully restored. Sections of Queens and Staten Island look like war zones. And river crossings in and out of the city look like post-apocalyptic check points for contagions. Yet this Mayor thinks its a good idea to parade 40,000+ runners around the boroughs like floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
A month from now, I’d get it. New York City rose from the ashes; got back up; bounced back. But now?
Either Bloomberg knows something the rest of us don’t know – like that everything’s going to be back to normal by Sunday – or the dude’s finally lost it. If he truly believes this race is more important than government performing its most basic functions, he and I have strikingly different ideas about the role of said government.
But should we really be all that surprised? Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office will be memorialized in annals of history for one thing – knowing what’s best for New Yorkers in spite of what New Yorkers think is best for New Yorkers. Think about it. The very fact that he’s still Mayor is a testament to that mindset. Term limits? What term limits? You need me. Dude’s been mayor longer than Honey Boo Boo’s been on this earth. Saturated fats? Ban’em. And throw the calorie count on the fast food menu while you’re at it. 13 ounce soft drinks? No way. New Yorkers are getting fat. Gone.
Bloomberg knows best.
And then yesterday, in the middle of the cleanup from Sandy, the Mayor took time out from his otherwise busy schedule to endorse President Obama for another term. Nothing better to do, I suppose.
His threshold question? Who will do more to combat man-made climate change? I guess that should be fresh on his mind; 100-year storm and all. But is now really the best time to be blaming Sandy on SUV’s, boats, ATV’s, and everything else the residents of New York would cut off a thumb for at the current moment?
Anyone know what a generator runs on? Are folks warming themselves with wind turbines south of Houston? Are they showering with hot water from a solar panels in the Chelsea? What good’s that electric car doing without power to charge it?
But yes, Bloomberg knows best.
And with yet another brilliant calculation, he has decided that the New York City Marathon must go on. The city just can’t pass on a $350 million weekend. People have made travel plans, businesses rely on the revenue, and the city has a reputation to uphold.
For what its worth, that numbers slightly inflated as well. Its not exactly a $350 million bump. That’s more an accounting of total revenue. In case he forgot, NYC is a pretty busy place on even a typical weekend. We’re not talking net-net numbers here.
But he’s decided to run.
In a city that quickly becomes a logistical nightmare when the monthly freak show parade closes even a second tier side street, the world’s grandest road race will go on in spite of the disaster and devastation. A subway stoppage on a normal day can make a ten-minute commute a 2-hour adventure, and still this mayor thinks it is a great idea to add to the chaos a forty thousand plus runners and countless spectators all in the name of the almighty bottom line. Brilliant.
Don’t get me wrong. I know rescheduling the thing would be its own kind of nightmare. People travel to NY from all corners of the world for the race. Telling them “come next week instead” is anything but a solution. A laughable dream, at best. It’s run or not to run; not run or reschedule.
But what is really the harder call to make here? Telling runners, spectators, and tourists that the whole thing’s cancelled; or telling the family in Queens who saw their entire block burn to the ground that the race must go on? Telling a Kenyan his weeks and months of training were for not; or pulling city resources away from disaster relief so they can quarter off streets and direct traffic already in gridlock?
Are we really having this debate?
Mayor Bloomberg and I parted ways a long, long, long time ago. But even though he and I share very different political views, I never doubted for a moment that he thought he was doing what was best for New York. He may have been deeply misguided more often than not, but I always thought he put New York, first.
I’m just not so sure anymore.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg has decided to pull the plug. I’m thinking the thought of an angry mob meeting the runners around the 20-mile mark probably influenced his decision. Maybe that, or the difficult task of redirecting the route through parts of the City that weren’t impacted by Sandy…
The mayor’s action came amid an outcry that the event would take away from efforts to help thousands of New Yorkers who are without power or homeless because of superstorm Sandy.
“While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division,” the mayor said in a statement. “The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.”
He added, “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.”