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Post-Sandy, Facebook, Change.org Show Rising Opposition to NYC Marathon This Sunday

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, November 2 2012

Has New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has steered his city in all kinds of admirable ways since Hurricane Sandy first appeared on the horizon a week ago, seriously misread the mood of his fellow Gothamites with his decision to let the annual New York City Marathon proceed as scheduled this Sunday? The race, which draws between 40,000 and 60,000 runners each year, is the largest in the world--and many people are wondering if the usually uplifting event may put too heavy a burden on already strained and breaking city services.

Two hours ago, a petition on Change.org calling for the race to be postponed until next spring had about 5,000 signatures. That has already quadrupled to 20,000 as of this writing. An hour ago, a Facebook page, started by a woman from Staten Island, calling for the marathon's cancellation has 33,000 likes; that's now up to more than 40,000.

The comments on these pages capture some of the fury and frustration felt by New Yorkers who are wondering whether the city has its priorities straight. Here are some just from a recent two minute segment on Facebook:
-"I say instead of onlookers rooting for the runners if there are any then they should be booing! And handling out shovels instead of water so they can run to the nearest house and actually be usefull. Idiots!"
-"I'm a fan of Bloomberg, but if he goes forward with this I think it should cost him his job. It's just plain wrong with all the devastation. It reveals a huge disconnect and he should be embarrassed quite frankly."
-"Yes, it should be cancelled. Rooms that out-of-towners would take can be used temporarily for displaced homeowners. All the people volunteering to help with the marathon should be helping NY neighbors instead....water and supplies brought in for the marathon - again....donate to your NEIGHBORS....ETC. NO MARATHON NOW"

The NY Road Runners club has pledged to donate $1 million to relief efforts, $26.20 for every runner starting the race, but that doesn't appear to be assuaging popular opinion. The front page of today's New York Post attacked the race organizers for an "Abuse of Power," that is, for using electricity generators to power a marathon tent in Central Park when people are without power elsewhere in the city. And local politicians are clearly wavering on the issue: Public Advocate Bill De blasio, who was reported yesterday by the New York Times to be supporting the marathon, just tweeted less than an hour ago that "we need to postpone the Marathon and keep our focus where it belongs: on public safety and vital relief operations."

Social media may be an early barometer of local sentiment, but I wouldn't bet on Bloomberg listening to it (unlike real barometers, which he did). He's said many times that he thinks real-time interactive chatter makes governing harder, not easier. "We are basically having a referendum on every single thing that we do every day,” he said earlier this year in a speech in Singapore. “And it’s very hard for people to stand up to that and say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do.'" This may be one of those cases where the mayor's obstinant belief in his own expertise will serve him badly.

UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon, the mayor's office announced that the marathon would be postponed. The Facebook group was up to 50,000 likes; the Change.org petition had reached 28,000 signers.

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