HARDSHIP STRAINS EMTOTIONS IN NEW YORK
James Barron and Ken Belson
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, facing criticism that he was favoring marathon runners arriving from around the world over people in devastated neighborhoods, reversed himself and canceled the New York City Marathon.
The move was historic — the marathon has taken place every year since 1970, including the race in 2001 held two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and was projected to bring in $340 million.
For days, the mayor, who is often reluctant to abandon a position of his, insisted on going ahead with the race, saying it would signal that the city was back to normal.
He changed his mind as opposition became nearly unanimous. 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 dealing with damage from the hurricane, and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon. A petition from some marathoners called on other runners to skip the race and do volunteer work in hard-hit areas.
But the mayor liked the parallel to Sept. 11 and saw the marathon as a symbol of the city’s comeback. He talked to former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Friday morning; Mr. Giuliani said to stick with his original plan.
Within the mayor’s inner circle, though, there were concerns. Some advisers worried that the criticism could steal the focus from Mr. Bloomberg’s well-received performance during and after the storm, and could damage his legacy in the way that the city’s botched response to a blizzard had done in 2010.
Behind the scenes, there were also concerns about what the world would see: images of runners so close to neighborhoods that had been battered by the storm, at a time when gasoline remained in short supply and mass transit was still not fully functioning.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Deputy Mayors Howard Wolfson and Patricia E. Harris all argued for calling off the event.
The mayor, virtually alone in saying the race should go on, finally relented and canceled it after a conversation with Mary Wittenberg, the marathon director, late Friday. “This isn’t the year or the time to run it,” she said.
Patience also wore thin in other parts of the New York area amid lines that were once again painfully long — lines for free meals, lines for buses to take people where crippled subways could not, lines for gasoline that stretched 30 blocks in Brooklyn.
Hand-lettered signs in hard-hit areas struck a plaintive note: “FEMA please help us,” read one in Broad Channel, Queens. In Hoboken, N.J., one was addressed to Gov. Chris Christie: “Gov. Chris — where is the help $$$$”
Ethel Liebeskind of Merrick, N.Y., echoed that idea as she stood in the storm-tossed ruins of the house she had lived in for 26 years. “This is as bad as Katrina,” she said, “and they got global attention. The South Shore of Long Island should be treated the same way. Don’t forget us on the South Shore of Long Island. We need help.”
There was more grim news on Staten Island, where rescuers pulled two bodies from another house in the Midland Beach neighborhood, about two miles from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Neighbors who had been hauling their ruined furniture and trash to the street watched as two body bags were taken out of a house on Olympia Boulevard.
The two victims were not immediately identified. They brought to 41 the official count of people who died as rampaging wind drove a wall of water into the city on Monday night.
On Staten Island, which even in good times is often referred to as the city’s forgotten borough, desperation and anger were especially intense.
David Sylvester, 50, returned to his house in Midland Beach — he had left it after the mayor issued evacuation orders for low-lying areas, and it burned down when a power line shorted out during the storm — and criticized the government and relief agencies for not arriving fast enough.
He said that not until late Thursday afternoon did anyone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency stop by, and then the man said he should make an appointment. “First he told me to go on the Internet,” Mr. Sylvester said, “and I said, ‘Where should I plug it in?’ ”
The secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, visited Staten Island and defended the federal government’s response to Hurricane Sandy, saying relief supplies were close by before the storm and were ready to be delivered once it cleared out.
Staten Island, she acknowledged, “took a particularly hard hit.” She said 1.6 million meals and 7.1 million liters of water had been “positioned” before the storm to be distributed afterward in New York. She said 657 housing inspectors were already at work in New York and 3,200 FEMA employees had been sent to the Northeast.
Other government officials asked for patience, even as they imposed new restrictions: Governor Christie announced an odd-even gas rationing system in 12 New Jersey counties.
Still, there were some promising developments. Mr. Bloomberg said that “most” of Manhattan would have power again by midnight Friday, although he said that other parts of the city that were still dark — and where electricity comes from overhead lines — would have to wait “a lot longer.” New Jersey Transit started running partial rail service, more of the Metro-North Railroad system came back to life and the Staten Island Ferry started crisscrossing the harbor again.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the city had made “great progress,” with service restored to about half of the two million customers who lost electricity during the storm. But his morning briefing hinted at the realities of disaster recovery as he leavened encouragement with caution.
He said that turning the power back on in Lower Manhattan would be a “big step forward” for transportation serving the area, but he also said it “did not mean that every light” would work, because electrical systems in some buildings had been damaged.
He said that ports would reopen and that tankers carrying gasoline were on the way, so the gas shortages would diminish. He also said he had approved waivers so that fuel tankers would not have to register or pay state taxes, as they normally do — moves he said should speed the distribution of fuel to gas stations. But he offset that announcement with a sober warning: “It is not going to get better overnight. It is not going to be a one- or two- or three-day situation.”