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NYC Marathon: Run Or Not?

NYC Marathon: Run Or Not?

One of the first things I discovered when I assumed my first management position in business years ago was just how difficult it was to make a decision and then take responsibility and accountability for it. And that takes into consideration that most workplace decisions seem important at the time, but prove to be pretty insignificant in the long run. Still, when you are standing on the sidelines, all decisions are easy ones. That’s true in business, education, government and even at home where sometimes the hardest decision is whether to have hard or soft tacos. So I have some sympathy for New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his decision regarding whether or not to cancel the New York City Marathon Sunday.

Certainly, few of us in a business situation would ever face as difficult, or as highly visible, a decision as Bloomberg had to make this week.

In the wake of the massive destruction from Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg surveyed Gotham City and decided to let thousands of runners thread their way through 26.2 miles of the city, even as some areas remain without power, people are scrambling for food and shelter, mass transportation appears to be at a gridlock, and drivers are doing the Jimmy Carter oil embargo shuffle at gas stations.

Wrong decision, Mr. Mayor.

Here’s from the NYT, “Marathon Press On Despite Backlash“:

Amid intensifying criticism, New York Road Runners continued Thursday to prepare for the New York City Marathon with an abbreviated schedule of events leading to the race.

With the death count from Hurricane Sandy growing, hundreds of thousands still without power, and air, rail and ferry service struggling to resume, some runners and elected officials have called for Sunday’s marathon to be canceled or postponed. Police, fire and other essential public services, they said, should be focused on helping those most in need.

Nevertheless, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, aware that the marathon generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the city, repeated Thursday that the race would go on. He did not expect the Police Department to be overly burdened because the race is on a Sunday, when street traffic is limited. Many parts of the city, including Lower Manhattan, are expected to have their power back, freeing other workers.

“The city is a city where we have to go on,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of New York Road Runners, which puts on the race, defended Bloomberg’s decision and said the race would be used as a platform to lift spirits and raise money. Her organization plans to donate $1 million, or $26.20 for every runner who starts the race, to relief efforts in the city. The Rudin Family and ING, two sponsors of the race, will donate a combined $1.6 million to storm relief. Road Runners is working to donate other supplies to relief efforts.

George Hirsch, the chairman of the board of Road Runners, acknowledged that running the marathon could be viewed as trivial and even a drain in light of the devastation in and around New York. But he expected the race to galvanize the city much as it did after the terrorist attacks in September 2001.

“I understand the controversy completely and respect all the views on this, but any decision that was made by the mayor would have been controversial and to call off the race would have been equally as controversial,” Hirsch said. “By Sunday afternoon, there won’t be any controversy. People will view it as an early step in the city’s recovery.”

We’ll see. But something tells me that Mr. Hirsch is trying to pump some sunshine here where the sun doesn’t normally shine, with or without a generator.

Here’s from a New York Post editorial today, “Marathon is power mad!“:

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers huddle in the dark each night after the most devastating storm in city history — while two massive generators chug away in Central Park and a third sits idle waiting to power a media center during Sunday’s NYC Marathon.

Like hell.

Those generators could power 400 homes on Staten Island or the Rockaways or any storm-wracked neighborhood in the city certain to be suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday morning.

Shouldn’t they come first? Shouldn’t the race just be canceled?

Damned straight.

But Mayor Mike’s trademark Manhattan myopia is back: While ravaged outer-borough New Yorkers shiver in the dark, he declares the race will go on.

As everyone who has read any of my posts through the years knows, I’m a strong advocate for running and a great believer in the ability of marathons to change lives for the better. It’s often a matter of setting a goal and then working to achieve it, often despite a host of personal and physical obstacles. Many will achieve those personal goals by finishing the NYC Marathon Sunday. And great for them.

But regardless of the overall outcome of the marathon, the perception will be that it came at the expense of many people who desperately need help getting back on their feet following the tragedy of Sandy.

Tough decision for Mayor Mike.


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