Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: November 3, 12:37 PM ET
New Yorkers fight City Hall and win

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New Yorkers sure are one tough, resilient lot -- how many times have you heard that in the past four days? They endure far too much, far too often to let a force of nature break the same city and region that survived an unfathomable terrorist strike 11 years back.

Yet even New Yorkers embraced this one article of everyday faith: You can't fight City Hall. New Yorkers fight traffic, cab fares, each other, clueless out-of-towners, but usually not City Hall.

Until Friday. Until the voice of a battered but not broken people rose above the beep-beeping sounds of emergency vehicles backing in and out of their battered but not broken neighborhoods and shouted down a tone-deaf mayor.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's city endured a devastating week.

That mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wanted to run the New York City Marathon around the city's funeral processions and recovery efforts and four-hour gas lines, and the people -- his people -- wouldn't let him.

For Bloomberg, it didn't have to go down like this. He made the right call Wednesday when he told the NBA it couldn't stage a game between the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks in the billion-dollar Barclays Center on Thursday night, no matter how much the league and the Nets wanted that grand debut to come off.

The mayor appeared to understand that this wasn't merely a mass-transit issue in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that throwing an extravagant bash in the middle of a staggering human tragedy wasn't something that could happen on his watch.

And then Thursday came, and Friday afternoon, and somehow Bloomberg kept putting himself on the wrong side of the moral divide. The mayor kept insisting the marathon would go on even as the bodies were being pulled from the wreckage and floodwaters of Staten Island, the race's starting point.

Suddenly Bloomberg appeared hell-bent on doing to his legacy what Sandy had done to Staten Island and Breezy Point and so many corners of his iconic town. He began making claims that defied common sense. He swore that the resources devoted to the marathon and the policing tens of thousands of runners were not resources that would ordinarily be devoted to the recovery effort.

As if the cops, vehicles, gasoline, generators and water needed to run a major sporting event through the five boroughs couldn't be redirected to communities trying to rise out of apocalyptic ruins.

"While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort," Bloomberg insisted in a joint cancelation statement issued with Mary Wittenberg, president of the organizing New York Road Runners, "it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division. ... We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it."

A cloud? Calling what would've hung over the race and its participants a "cloud" is like calling Sandy a passing storm.

The people of New York -- especially the people of Staten Island -- made that clear. The residents of the forgotten borough would not be forgotten here, and their televised pleas for help, for basic human dignity, would not be muted as Bloomberg and Wittenberg embarrassed themselves by refusing to cancel the race.

Hurricane Sandy, Staten Island
The marathon would have started on Staten Island, areas of which were devastated by Sandy.

Staten Islanders would not allow their dead -- among them two children swept away from their mother by raging floodwaters -- to be dishonored by city officials and race organizers who insisted that going ahead with the marathon would be tantamount to going ahead with life. Staten Islanders raised their voices and started their online petitions and inspired their local politicians, because they didn't need 50,000 strangers running through their devastated land.

They didn't need outsiders telling them that they'd feel better about their lost family members and lost homes by watching these runners run. They didn't need race organizers turning this into a fundraiser as a means of tempering criticism.

They needed race organizers to go away.

Right-minded New Yorkers never bought the lame pitch that the marathon would be just what the doctor ordered days after surviving an epic storm. Not this soon. Not with so many among them hunting for shelter and warmth, and praying for a restoration of power.

Not with TV crews showing desperate residents digging through a restaurant dumpster and picking out spoiled food to eat. Not with cars and people forming lines at gas stations snaking up and down highways and cutting through traumatized communities, lines that rival those out of the Middle East oil embargo of the 1970s.

So the people fought City Hall and won. They shouted at Bloomberg and demanded he do to the marathon what he did to Knicks-Nets in Brooklyn, and what he should've done to Knicks-Heat in the Garden on Friday night.

Yes, New Yorkers are tough. Their longtime mayor just found out how tough.