NEW YORK, N.Y. - Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire Friday for pressing ahead with this weekend's New York Marathon in a city still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, with some New Yorkers saying that holding the race would be insensitive and divert police, generators and other resources when many are still suffering.
Joan Wacks, whose Staten Island waterfront condo was swamped with 4 feet of water, predicted authorities will still be recovering bodies when the estimated 40,000 runners from around the world hit the streets for the 26.2-mile race Sunday, and she called the mayor "tone deaf."
"He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with," she said. "If there are any resources being put toward the marathon, that's wrong. I'm sorry, that's wrong."
At a news conference, Bloomberg defended his decision as a way to raise money for the stricken city and boost morale less than a week after Sandy flooded neighbourhoods, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands homes and businesses and killed at least 39 people.
"New York has to show we are here and we are going to recover ... to give people something to cheer about in what has been a dismal week for a lot of people," he said.
He noted that his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, went ahead with the New York Marathon two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"If you go back to 9-11, Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon and pull people together," Bloomberg said. He said the marathon's organizers are "running this race to help New York City, and the donations from all the runners in the club will be a great help for our relief efforts."
One of the world's pre-eminent road races, the New York Marathon generates an estimated $340 million into the city.
The course runs from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on hard-hit Staten Island to Central Park, sending runners through all five boroughs. The course will not be changed, since there was little damage along the route.
Earlier this week, the mayor said the race wouldn't siphon off resources from the storm recovery, noting electricity is expected to be restored to all of Manhattan by race day, freeing up "up an enormous number of police."
The marathon's sponsors and organizers have dubbed it the "Race to Recover" and intend to use the event to raise money for the city to deal with the crisis. New York Road Runners, the race organizer, will donate $1 million and said sponsors have pledged more than $1.5 million.
"It's hard in these moments to know what's best to do," NYRR president Mary Wittenberg said. "The city believes this is best to do right now."
New Yorker Michael Sofronas used to run the marathon and has been a race volunteer for four years, serving as an interpreter for foreign runners. But he said he won't volunteer this year.
"I'm also really very aghast at the fact that we've just gone through the Sandy hurricane and I believe that the people should not be diverted to the marathon. They should focus on the people in need," he said. "It's all about money, money from everybody. The sponsors, the runners."