NYC has to take care of its own before playing host

NEW YORK -- The tree-lined streets of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, that were once host to farmers markets are now littered with branches and uprooted tree trunks on top of cars.

Neighborhood beacon Brooklyn Technical High School, which normally houses New York City's brightest students, is being used as a shelter.

The main conduits of my beloved borough, no stranger to traffic, are crowded with cars struggling to get the last drop of gas in the city. The helpless look on stranded motorists' faces tells a story 100 pages long.

Yes, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, this past week has felt like an eerie scene out of the movie, "I Am Legend."

The storm took a more emotional turn as the death count in New York City rose to 41 on Friday night, and I watched newscasts where people cried for food and water, and assistance to find family members in the rubble of their destroyed homes. Their pleas hurt even more because, with that distinctive New York accent, they sounded as if they could be coming from my family or friends.

"We're freezing our asses off with no power, no nothing," one Staten Islander said on a CNN broadcast. "I'm sorry, [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] is delusional."

When looking at the devastation in Brooklyn -- which wasn't even the borough hit hardest in the storm -- it is easy to understand why New Yorkers who posted signs such as "F.U. Mayor and Your Marathon" were elated when Bloomberg and New York Road Runners president and CEO Mary Wittenberg announced Friday that Sunday's race was canceled.

"I understand the marathon being held for financial reasons, but I think they finally realized just how f---ed up it is to host a race when people don't have basic necessities to live," said Anne Lieberman, who lives blocks from the marathon route in Fort Greene. "I mean, this stuff out here looks post-Katrina-like."

Lieberman couldn't understand how the city could justify using volunteers and manpower for an extracurricular activity when food and water had yet to reach certain sections of the city four days after the storm.

Emily Du Tuit, who has lived near the marathon route in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, for 11 years, considered holding the marathon in "bad taste" by the city, as the route would start in the hardest-hit borough of Staten Island and block roads for emergency vehicles. She believed the marathon is a powerful event, but not powerful enough to bring electricity back to victims' homes.

Booting homeless flood victims out of New York hotels so runners could rest before the race sent a conflicting message to New Yorkers about what the city's priorities are, said Samantha Gass, a volunteer at Brooklyn Technical High School.

And I couldn't agree more with my neighbors.

As I tossed out all the spoiled food from my powerless fridge, I couldn't help but think how much I would have liked to have used one of the three generators that would have been used to power the marathon's media tent. When I saw proud New Yorkers waiting in line for water, I wished they could have had one of the thousands of gallons of water that would have been ready for tired runners. New Yorkers are a strong, proud people who have weathered the unimaginable: serial killers, blackouts and terrorist attacks. Being a higher priority than a marathon race is the least they should expect for putting up with the current Mad Max world of New York City.

The mere fact Mayor Bloomberg insisted the city could handle the 26.2 miles and nearly 47,000 participants of the NYC Marathon made me and other New Yorkers furious. Known for their shrewd attitudes (think Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" before his morning coffee), residents of The Big Apple vocalized their displeasure over the race continuing.

Mike Francesa, a native New Yorker and WFAN radio host, flipped out on his show this week, saying this was one of the worse decisions he could remember.

"Now you want the street to be littered with half-full water bottles from guys who are running in the marathon, who are pouring it on their heads and throwing half-used bottles in the street and in [New] Jersey they don't have water?!"

New York's local Village Voice newspaper stated in such eloquent terms, "New York City doesn't have resources to waste right now, especially on a stupid race."

I feel for the runners who planned to participate in the race, especially those who spent large amounts of money and time to travel here for it, but many of them have a home to go back to. There are also some New Yorkers who believed the race should have continued because of the charities it helps and the estimated $340 million it brings to the city; but what difference does money make to a city when its citizens feel as if they are second to the almighty dollar?

No matter how much money it might cost the city, Mayor Bloomberg and Wittenberg's decision to cancel the marathon was the right one, and it gives my much-loved city a chance to heal. We will rebuild; we will come back stronger and better, and will once again be the same gracious hosts of the marathon we have been for the past four decades.

But, right now, we have to take care of home before we play host.

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