dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

It's a Marathon, not a sprint

Mayor Bloomberg seems to think that if we don't hold the New York City Marathon on Sunday then the Hurricane wins. Opposition is growing, and count me among the advocates of postponing. Why the obsession with always pretending that life goes on no matter the tragedy or disaster? Or keeping to previous schedules to show how tough or resilient we are? Sometimes life, and death, happens. It's fine to mark that, and to allow it to alter the course of things. This was a huge wallop, and healing will take time.The Syndic of Gotham says the race brings in much-needed cash to the storm-tossed city. Yes, but does everything have to be about business and marketing and the bottom line? Okay, so let the Chamber of Commerce picture this image instead: race volunteers on Staten Island handing out cups of water to runners while residents of the neighborhoods around them are without water to drink. Now there's the kind of PR the city doesn't need.New Yorkers are indeed a tough lot -- they are showing that every moment of every day in the race to pick up, buck, up and carry on. Give them a medal, not a marathon.BREAKING: The Mayor's office reads dotCommonweal, and within moments of my posting this they called off the Marathon. No word yet on rescheduling. Good for them. And I'll cheer when they run through next year, or even next week.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Life in urban storm-wracked America is quite tough these days. The latest smart iphones don't have service; Starbux aren't open for purchase of the grande loopa amontillado triple cappucinos; Broadway shows aren't showing; and now ... horrors! ... the marathon can't happen.In the immortal words of Tiny Tim: God bless us, one and all. If we just persevere we can have our toys back real soon.(How many people have died on the Eastern seaboard so far?)

I understand the viewpoint of people who wanted the marathon cancelled, but I think a lot of people will be very disappointed as well. If the recovery isn't complete by Thanksgiving, should we cancel the parade?

I think its just days away from the disaster & theyre still looking for bodies and people in Staten Island and Queens and other places are beside themselves with grief and need. The marathon, if run this coming weekend, would seem to suggest that their plight is just one of those things. I think cancelling it was prudent. It can always be rescheduled.

George Vecsey has a good column in tomorrow's (i.e. Saturday, Nov. 3) N.Y. Times on the decision to call off the marathon: "Wisely Stepping Aside in a Bombarded City."http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/sports/george-vecsey-canceling-the-mar...

The cynical response could be that the city has made a lot of money just having the runners show up (hotel rooms, food, transport, etc.) and then calls it off... Should have done that sooner. But having decided to carry on with the Marathon, the city should have stuck to its position. The first right position was to call if off, having decided to carry on, they should have.Christine Quinn, city council president, came out against today. But then she's running for mayor. Hmmm!

The brunt of the storm hit Monday night and it wasnt until later Tuesday that the recovery started: 4 days before the Marathon. Many residents cannot get to work and some still cannot get groceries yet the city is going to transport 40,000 runners plus all their supporters. The only answer was to cancel. At least Bloomberg finally recognized the situation and corrected his decision.

The city could not prevent the hurricane, but it could have canceled the marathon before people flew in from abroad. It owes runners compensation for local expenses at least. Perhaps the city can compensate the runners by footing the bills for their hotel stays, or by offering them vouchers for free food, lodging, and participation next year.

I think Christine Quinn is out to lunch on this one. [Thanks to Mollie for the correction.] Two generators that had been sent to Central Park in order to power the finish-line festivities could have provided electricity to four hundred homes on Staten Island. The scale of human suffering is quite staggering. The Island is reeling. The Rockaways are teetering on the edge of chaos. There was no way the marathon could have gone on. Bloomberg should have recognized this earlier. But how much earlier? Enough to allow the marathoners to recoup their expenses? I don't think so. And I don't think the city should give them one dime. Not until every effort has been made to relieve the suffering of the people who have been displaced by this act of God.

Wait, Christine Quinn was against holding the marathon -- not against canceling it. I'm pretty disgusted with the way Bloomberg and the marathon organizers have been trying to spin the opposition to holding the marathon as entirely emotional. The case for holding the marathon was an emotional appeal to "resilience" and "unity," and it fell flat with New Yorkers. But the case against is primarily a practical one -- the city has urgent needs that the marathon would disrupt. From the NYT: "Critics said that it would be in poor taste to hold a foot race through the five boroughs while so many people in the area were still suffering from the storms damage, and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon." I'd flip that sentence around. Is it in "poor taste" to start a race in Staten Island while they're still finding bodies? Sure. But it's the second part, about how the city should be focusing its services on relief and recovery, that fueled the criticism I heard. Even now the organizers are claiming that it's all about being tasteful: "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." That's ridiculous. The generators. The gasoline. The port-a-potties. The hotel rooms needed for displaced New Yorkers. The ambulances and EMTs and police officers. And then there's the pressure on an already strained transit system and infrastructure.

I'd heard that the marathon wouldn't divert that many police officers and EMTs from relief efforts. But New Yorkers are arming themselves in the Rockaways to defend against looters. The whole area is in dire need of assistance. That obviously has priority over a big athletic event.

Do you think the couch potatoes are behind the cancellation?A profile of Mary Wittenberg, head of the Road Runners, which runs the marathon.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/sports/marathon-starts-to-divide-not-u...

"Costs of Canceling Marathon Are Unknown but Immense"http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/sports/marathons-cancellation-sure-to-...

New Yorkers interested in helping with the relief efforts in storm damaged neighborhoods, here is the link to the NYC website: www.nycservice.org

Mr. Gibson, I'm with you (and the mayor) on this one. And for all the reasons you've shared on your own behalf.For whatever reason, your comments reminded me that the U.S. has been at war for more than a decade, thousands of American military personnel have been killed or wounded, and, yet, I'm not aware of any sense of shared sacrifice emanating from the shopping malls of America, etc., much less reflected in our news media. Life --- smiles or ho-hum --- goes on for the average citizen, if not for those families who've suffered the loss of loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the runners et al, life is not fair. A trainer told us years ago that when his kids would complain "That's not fair, Daddy!", he would respond (I assume) with great affection and sympathy, "Of course, kiddo, life is not fair. A fair is a fancy country picnic."

DIGRESSIONThis doesn't fit anywhere, but the Conciliaria blog has posted a slew of articles about what was actually going on at the beginning of Vatican II, especially about the liturgy. For those of you who don't remember the Cold War -- just how terribly cold it was! -- there's one about the bishops who were and were not allowed to attend the Council by their Communist governments. A couple of cardinals couldn't go because they were sitting the war out in embassies of other countries and to leave would have been to be arrested. Now those were some bishops!http://conciliaria.com/2012/11/49-bishops-at-council-from-communist-coun...

I was surprised when the mayor et al decided to go ahead with the marathon; I was surprised when they canceled it; just to say I don't have strong views on this. So I am curious given how this has fallen out: Who or how is anyone going to benefit from the cancellation?

While I understand cancelling the marathon, I'm a little taken aback by the complete lack of sympathy for the 40,000 + marathoners. Facebook has all of these snarky comments about how the runners should all go volunteer on Staten Island. I wonder if all of those people telling the marathoners to volunteer are themselves volunteering.I have zero interest in the marathon, except to avoid neighborhoods along the route. But I know other people care very deeply. One of my neighbors, who is a marathon runner, saw one of the Ethiopian women who is a front runner, training in Van Cortlandt Park after the hurricane. I'm sure this Ethiopian girl is more than a little disappointed now. And yes, some people in Staten Island have it much worse- incomparably worse. But I don't see why we still can't have a little sympathy left over for the runners.

Isn't the situaton in NY worse than the situation in New Orleans from Katrina?

Sympathy? Sure. I imagine it's disappointing. But it's not as though they visited Siberia for the weekend. They're in New York City--a fine destination even when significantly crippled. But marathoners and their supporters are the ones who should be showing sympathy. I don't care if they volunteer. But I do think the ones who are whining about how liberals are wimps (check Twitter) should shut up immediately and be grateful they aren't cold, hungry, and homeless.

@Mark: While more people are affected by Sandy, the overall conditions in NOLA after Katrina were FAR worse than those in New York or New Jersey, to say nothing of the death count -- almost 2000 people died as a result of Katrina. If you review what happened in Katrina and its aftermath, there is really no comparison.

Margaret Steinfels: A lot depends on how the mayor and his administration now proceed.Without the distraction of the marathon, I would assume that the mayor and his administration will have more undistracted time and perhaps also more resources to direct to Staten Island and other places that still cry out for attention.By the way, I thought the mayor made a terrible first decision. As a result, I admire him for changing his mind and making what I consider to be the correct decision -- the one he should have made to begin with.

The idea of income (100 million) for the city and the morale booster was not necessarily bad. It did not show disregard. Just a misplaced emphasis. If the hotels and other beneficiaries has offered 25 million or so for food and electrical workers, the running of the marathon might have worked. If generators were obtained by that money it might have made a different impact. It is a good case where if both sides showed some creativity everyone could have come out winning. This seems possible though I don't know how an solid analysis would estimate.

jbruns--I think I'm in agreement with you. But if Sandy was not as bad as Katrina, yet there are all these unmet needs in NY and NJ...I'm wondering if Sandy will not hit Obama the way Katrinia hit Bush.

ISTM that comparing New Orleans and Katrina and NYC and Sandy is like comparing apples and oranges. Sure there are lots of similarities. Both suffered catastrophic storms. But New Orleans was less well prepared because Dubya had refused to maintain the levees as needed, and the communications system was horrible to non-existent. Manhattan is mostly 33 feet above sea-level, which protected most of it against the surge, but other boroughs are far less elevated and each of their populations, I would guess, exceeds that of the whole of New Orleans (which was around 400,000 before Katrina). Most importantly, because we New Orleanians had had experience with terrible storms before (Betsy was another giant that went straight through the city) most of us realized that we needed to get out and we did. Only a relatively few thousand with no transportation or extremely hard heads stayed. Those are the ones you saw on TV in the Superdome and Convention Center. Yes, they were miserable, but no doubt so are the people in the boroughs that were hit so hard.So which was worse -- the over-crowded Superdome or the low-lying houses flooded in Queens with little food and no electricity or gas? I think I''d take the Superdome and its potable water. I'd say the long-term effects in New Orleans were worse -- I think there were something like 80,000 houses that were lost. But short-term I don't doubt for a second that there are more people in the outer boroughs of New York who are suffering a great deal more than there were in New Orleans in the week or two after Katrina. Yes, some of the NYC houses are being destroyed, but I wonder if it's as many. If it's as many or more, then the long-term damage in New York will be worse, and the people need our sympathy and help.You can hardly imagine these things unless you see them first hand. And it seems to me that Mayor Bloomberg, in spite of the marathon kerfufle, is doing extremely well in horrible circumstances.All of the big cities learned from New Orleans' experience with Katrina. Most now have adequate communications systems. which alone are great pluses. Now pray that we'll all learn from New York City, and that we will finally be wise enough to take whatever measures are necessary to lessen the effects of these monster storms and other disasters.

Ann--Perhaps you have not seen this:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/nyregion/in-public-housing-after-hurri... police are afraid to go out at night. One good thing coming out of it is a new appreciation on Staten Island for the 2nd Amendment.

Perhaps I should add that it seems that about a quarter of the population has not returned, and I don't imagine it will. Those are the people who could not afford to re-build. I don't know what the situation in the boroughs will be. Big unanswered questions: how many of the people whose houses were flooded will have to re-locate to other cities at least temporarily? Will they return? Who knows.Some people think that New Orleans will never be as large as it was in the 50s. Some think that the poor who had to re-locate might actually be better off living, for instance, in prosperous Atlanta. By the way, Houston welcomed our refugees, and people have been most generous in helping the city recover, both with time and money. Sort of renews your faith in human nature. So some good does come out of the awfulness.And I left out the best part: the City and State took the opportunity to rebuild the public school system from scratch -- and, miracle eor miracles, it seems to be working!!! So don't despair, East Coast. You'll get some good out of this. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Mark Proska: You wouldn't by chance be a Republican who does not plan to vote for President Obama's re-election, would you?Yes, to be sure, there are still a lot of difficulties to be overcome in the aftermath of Sandy.However, unless something really extraordinary happens between now the the time when the voting stops on Tuesday evening, I do not expect to see Obama's re-election hopes hurt by his handling of the Sandy disaster. Thus far, he has handled the disaster well enough for most people to give him passing marks.

Thomas--I stand accused. Although I could agree with you, here's the problem I see with your formulation. When Obama made a campaign stop in NJ and NY, he set himself up as president, as in charge, as responsible. How can he now disclaim responsibility for the fiasco that's resulted?

Mark P. --Imagine trying to get anything done in an American city or just a neighborhood with no electricity, no water, no cell-phones, no passable streets except a few for walking, many detours, no food close by, not enough police, not enough medicine, few doctors, . . . . . . Sounds to me like New Yorkers are doing just fine in the circumstances.

"...no electricity, no water, no cell-phones, no passable streets except a few for walking, many detours, no food close by, not enough police, not enough medicine, few doctors, . . "Ann--Precisely my point. Didn't the president promise FEMA would respond within 15 minutes? Respond with what, exactly? Who's in charge here? Is he going to blame Bush for this too?

Mark, you sound as lacking in facts and as partisan as Rudy G did on Cnn. W Bush ignored the facts until it was too late. How you can compare a population New Orleans 350,000 with New york metro area of 19 million is something. With that comparison we are doing an overwhelmingly better job than with Katrina. There is just no argument. But you do want Romney to win. That Romney who has done more flip flops than any fish ever did.

Mark =For cryin' out loud, man, what do you think has happened in NYC? A UPS strike? Several transformers out of service???? Use your imagination! Parts of NYC are like the German cities that were bombed out in WW II or like Dresden. There is destruction all around of all sorts. Those parts of the city will need rebuilding from the bottom up -- in many places from zilch. They weren't built in five crummy days and they probably won't be completely rebuilt within five years, if then.And not only the city but the outlying areas have also been debilitated, making restoration of even basic services -- like supplying gasoline -- impossible in many cases.Wake up and see the real problems. (One of which is YOU.)

"How can he now disclaim responsibility for the fiasco thats resulted?"NOT a fiasco;the recovery in NYC is very impressive. FEMA and the armed forces have done a great job supporting the local efforts. It's only 5 days since the hurricance and ConEd has power almost fully restored here (Staten Island is the worst off, according to the outage map; they're at 85%). But I don't see the Rockaways on the map, are they served by LIPA?Mass transit is working, though there is more to do. Fuel deliveries have been streamlined and the President has tapped into the government reserves, so the gas crunch should ease.The City will take a while to rebuild, but a lot is being done, and being done well.

"Crime during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath declined in New York City by 32 percent compared with the previous year, the police said on Saturday, but even the storms fury did not stop some from trying to take advantage of the confusion and chaos that followed."http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/28/nyregion/hurricane-sandy.h... we have less crime on average, not more, with the Hurricane

There's a lot of headlines about building sea-gates, etc., to prevent the kind of surge that low-lying parts of New York and New Jersey saw on Monday/Tuesday. But it appears that much of the suffering region-wide has to do with lack of electricity, hence lack of lights, in many cases heat, and sources of information. Lines are down. Maybe resources should be spent on burying electric cables.One reason Manhattan is reconnected is that lines are not overhead, they're underground. Hence repairs at single substations solve the problem of many building being without power. Elsewhere in NY, CT, and NJ, trees and other obstacles have to be removed so repair trucks and workers can get to the lines and rehang them.Another curiosity is the way in which electricity is delivered to particular locales. The Rockaways, part of NYC, gets its supply from Long Island Electric, which is a company that serves Nassau and Suffolk counties, and generally has a reputation for bad service. In contrast, most of NYC has ConEd. Battery Park City in lower Manhattan never lost its power because it's connected to a substation in Brooklyn rather than the substation that serves the rest of the area.It's not clear what the mayor or governor can do about the electricity problem except demand that the utilities (public service companies but independently owned) speed up repairs.

Beautiful sunny Sunday in NYC. Perfect weather for a marathon!

Bill--I hope you are right but I think you are wrong. Have you checked any non-liberal news sources? I could provide links, but you can just go to the Drudge report and you'll find a number of them.Ann--I know you didn't mean that.

As for Mark Proska's totally fair-minded political analysis, read this polling data:http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/11/obama-approval-superstorm-sand... for electricity: It's not simply a matter of buried lines. Lots of those networks were overwhelmed by the storm surge. Including the one served by the 14th St. substation, which exploded on Monday night. And then there are the houses destroyed by wind and fire. The homes blown apart, or bisected by boats, shredded by flying debris, or whose electrical boxes and boilers were swamped by the flood waters. Buried lines are not a panacea. They'd help, and I expect they'll be installed in areas that need rebuilding. But that won't be enough. We can build better sea walls, better barriers, better shock absorbers, better pumping systems, but there's no fool-proof defense against a storm like Sandy. We hadn't seen anything like it before. But we may see more like it in the future.

I liked the suggestion of the oyster beds and the one of the salt marsh buffer. I don't know how practical they are, but they sound really cool. Though I imagine oysters harvested from the Gowanus Canal might taste a little funky.

Grant--Thanks for the link, but isn't TPM generally considered to be left of center? Moreover, shouldn't we be more concerned about the people still suffering from Sandy than who may have gotten a boost in the polls from it?

I have to say the Occupy forces have done an amazing job, in my experience, and that of others, in delivering aid and organizing people:http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/11/occupy-leads-relief-in-powerless-re... this tragedy shows what they're really about, and what they're really good at. In crises like these, it is so much about distribution and delivery as much as generosity. There is often plenty of the latter. That said, the entire Sandy saga seems to undermine the GOP talking points about FEMA and all federal bureaucracies being a waste. What everyone is talking about is either how well FEMA and local entities have done (the NYT today has a profile of FEMA head Fugate, who has done a pretty admirable job of returning FEMA to good graces after the disaster of the Bush years) or the discussion is about how they could do better. Either way, it's about government having a role, not government not doing its job. For the GOP this is a problem in that they don't like government so when there are government functions to perform, they tend not to do them well. It's a conundrum. The other problem Sandy raises for Republicans is that it undermines the arguments about individual freedom trumping everything. William Saletan at Slate asks the obvious -- if the government can order you to evacuate for the benefit of others, why not the indivdual mandate? http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/10/hurri... the funniest conservative effort to critique the government over Sandy, the always hilarious Walter Russell Meade says Sandy shows the problem with the "nanny state" because Bloomberg focused on banning Big Gulps rather than building berms and sea walls:http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/10/31/hurricane-sandy-an... that building sea walls is the city's job, but WRM is stuck arguing against the nanny state while arguing for a bigger nanny state -- one that would do big things that Republicans hate doing. Yeah, he's stuck.

Grant (10:43am) -- Agreed: "We hadnt seen anything like it before. But we may see more like it in the future." Looking ahead also requires more than planning on how to meet Sandy better the next time. Each big hurricane with which I have been intimately acquainted has had unique features, meaning that, even if you had learned and implemented all the lessons of the past ones, Nature would offer a few surprises. A couple of observations, not meant to be predictive but to suggest considerations in looking ahead past Sandy:This weekend, temperatures around NY in the 30's add a new dimension of hazard for residents, responders, and recovery work, especially with limited availability of electricity and fuels continuing for days. The Tropical Hurricane season is arbitrarily said to end November 30. That's not a natural law and, historically, outliers have been observed. The implications of tropical storms arriving when it's cold out (e.g., 35F) need full attention. (If the air temperature were to get down to around 28F, even the sea water spray widely observed can begin to freeze.) Sandy made landfall on Monday night near Atlantic City, about 130 miles south of NYC. It was moving away from the NYC area at the time and continued to do so. While NYC area and the Sound were already on the "bad side" of the storm for wind and surge exposure, a small shift in earlier track direction might have substantially increased the impact there or, alternatively, around Philadelphia or Baltimore-Washington areas. Sandy needs to be clearly recognized as one example, not the model of what may be coming.

"With Big Event Canceled, Marathoners Hold Race of Their Own" and in a good spirit.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/sports/marathoners-hold-race-of-their-...

Dumb me: I thought Christie, Bloomberg, Cuomo and Obama could simply wave their magic wands in sync and --- ta da! --- everything would be back to normal. Just goes to show you that Big Gummint cain't do nuthin' nohow nowhere.However, such things as not letting non-union electricians from Alabama help out in Ny (or maybe it was NJ) because they are non-union does tend to slow things down just a wee bit.

That is adorable, Proska. You want us to pretend that you weren't politicizing this from the start. The polls I linked to are bipartisan. So you are out to lunch. As usual. Stop pronouncing on the state of New York. You don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Mark --Yes, I did mean it. You need to take a much closer look and recognize the amazing job all sorts of people are doing and give them some support, not sarcasm. And i'm going to add something: remember the "tree-huggers" who warned 40 years ago about ending up "freezing in the dark"? Well take a look. Sadly, they were right. And there is likely to be more of it. The U.S. has extremely long coasts, and a huge proportion of the population lives all along them. So wise up. Now is the time to give up your Karl Rove/conservative myths and listen to what the scientists are saying. And, no doubt about it, it will cost PLENTY.

GrantFirst, if you recheck the link, youll see it is not to bipartisan polls, but to a talking points memo authored by a gentleman who went to NYU who interned at the New Yorker. I would hardly consider his analysis bipartisan.Second, are you actually demanding that I post no further comments on the city of New York? Seriously?Third, I understand that nerves can be on a knifes edge with the election so close. If it makes you feel any better, at this time I see Obama as a clear favorite to win re-election. Thats not based on any inside information, except maybe for Pennsylvania, but given that I dont know what the hell Im talking about, perhaps tist provides little comfort to you.

You politicized the storm. That disgusts me.

AnnI am sorry to hear that you did mean it, that is not like you. As it goes without saying that the sacrifice of our first-responders is laudable, I saw no need to say it.Now, as for the state of New York city, and the surrounding area, have you seen this?http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/11/02/FEMA-Still-Doesn-t-Ha... this?http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2227307/Hurricane-Sandy-Misery-2... more.

An interesting summary of part of what is going on in the NY/NJ area is in the US Defense Department status report of its contributions to the FEMA response as of noon Nov 4. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118439

Pages

Share

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.