Kevin McCoy and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday rejected criticism of his decision to go ahead with Sunday's New York City Marathon, saying it would give the storm-ravaged city "something to cheer about."
Critics -- including lawmakers -- have slammed the mayor's decision as "idiotic," insensitive and a diversion of city resources at a time when New Yorkers have lost power, their homes and their loved ones.
Thousands of runners have joined online appeals to boycott the event or volunteer instead on Sunday to help stricken families.
The scrappy New York Post took the mayor to task with its front page headlined "Abuse of Power." It pictured large generators supplying power to the marathon's administrative tent in Central Park.
"Those generators could power 400 homes on Staten Island or the Rockaways or any storm-racked neighborhood in the city certain to be suffering the after-affects of Hurricane Sandy on Sunday morning," the Post thundered in a Friday editorial. "Shouldn't they come first? Shouldn't the race just be canceled? Damned straight."
At a Friday briefing, Bloomberg tried to counter the mounting criticism by saying the expanded restoration of mass transit and projected return of electrical power to most of Manhattan by Friday night would free up many police officers and other city personnel.
The city resources required by the marathon, he said, are not resources that would make a difference in storm recovery efforts. "If I thought it would take resources away" from emergency work, "we would not do that," he said.
The mayor noted that Rudy Giuliani, his predecessor who had staged the annual race only weeks after the 9/11 attacks, supported his decision as a way to demonstrate solidarity among New Yorkers.
The marathon, Bloomberg told reporters, will "give people something to cheer about in a week that's been pretty dismal."
"You can grieve, you can laugh, you can cry, all at the same time," the mayor said.
He also said the race would pump much-needed money into the city's economy, which was brought to its knees by the storm.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: A confounding and unseemly decision
STATEN ISLAND: Help was slow in coming
Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners that operates the event, also tried to fend off criticism by saying this year's event will involve more private contractors than in past years to ease the strain on city services.
The marathon, which has run every year since 1970, brings an estimated $340 million into the city, and race organizers say some of it will be used for recovery efforts.
New York Road Runners will donate $1 million to the recovery fund and said more than $1.5 million in pledges already had been secured from sponsors.
Bloomberg's critics, however, were blunt.
Councilman James Oddo, from the devastated borough of Staten Island, where the race will begin, lashed out at the mayor on his Twitter feed:
If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon I will scream. We have people with no homes and no hope right now
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer weighed in, saying the city is trying to recover from the blow by Sandy and now is not the time to hold a marathon.
He said in a statement that New Yorkers throughout the city "are struggling to keep body and soul together, deprived of basic essentials as temperatures drops."
The race should be rescheduled, he said, "in order to focus all of the city's resources on the crucial task of helping our neighbors recover from this disaster."
"New Yorkers deserve nothing less than to know that the entire government is focused solely on returning the city and their region back to normalcy," Stringer said.
A growing number of runners are also speaking out.
Penny Krakoff, a Brooklyn woman who had planned to run on Sunday, plans to catch the official bus to the starting line in Staten Island, but spurn the race in favor of volunteering in the stricken area.
"Let's not waste resources and attention on a foot race," she tells Gothamist. "Who is with me?"
Other runners have turned to Facebook, on such pages as NYC 2012 Marathon of Relief, to redirect marathoners toward volunteer work on Sunday.
More than 47,000 people signed up for this year's race, although organizers now think that about 8,000 of the 30,000 out-of-towers once expected won't make it.
An online petition circulating via Twitter had collected more than 20,000 signatures by Friday afternoon from runners and others who want to see the race postponed, Malia Rulon Herman, of the Gannett Washington Bureau, reported.
"It is not the right time," wrote Danielle Visvader-Pradas of New York. "People lost their homes. People are still without electricity and heat. This city should not have the streets filled with cheering when so many have lost so much."
But Anne-Marie Auwinger, who lives in Lower Manhattan and has been without power since Monday, said it's important to hold the race -- her first marathon.
"Everything can't just stop because this happened," she said. "We have to try to make things as normal as we can."
James Brennan, a Rockaway Beach native whose relatives lost their homes to the devastating storm, said he always had immense respect for Bloomberg as a businessman and government leader -- until the decision to stage this year's marathon.
"I think this is the biggest mistake he's made, not only in his mayoral career, but in his entire life," said Brennan, a California entrepreneur who said he has raised roughly $500,000 to fund relief and recovery efforts in his boyhood neighborhood and devastated Breezy Point in Queens.
"I understand the importance of showing that New York City is back up and running, but this is flat wrong," he said Friday, a day after flying to New York City and bringing relief supplies to the Rockaway oceanfront area.
"These people are soaking wet, freezing, no homes, and the city's holding a marathon. That's just wrong."
Although the blue-and-orange finish line is already in place in Central Park, which was spared the worst of Sandy's wrath, the logistics of pulling off the marathon are staggering.
Hotels in Midtown are already struggling to accommodate stranded commuters, guests moved from electricity-starved Lower Manhattan and tourists unable to get a flight out of town.
On Staten Island, Richard Nicotra, owner of a Hilton Garden Inn, refused to kick out his current guests, who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy, in favor of runners arriving for the marathon, USA TODAY's Barbara Delollis reported.
At first, the hotel told guests that they would have to leave by Thursday, because they were sold out with marathon runners. But on Thursday morning, he said, the guests "were begging me and crying saying, 'You can't throw me out. I have no place to go.' "
He said he worked out arrangements with the New York Road Runners, which had a contract for rooms, to set up temporary housing in the hotel ballroom to accommodate the runners.
Just getting tens of thousands of runners to the starting line on Staten Island could prove difficult.
Even if many of the original out-of-town runners make it to the city in time, it is still unclear how they will get to the 102-square-mile island where homes were leveled by high water and 470,000 residents are without power.
Marathon organizers announced Friday that the usual ferry option has been canceled and that runners would be transported by bus to the starting line, although ferry service resumed on Friday.
Runners from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, facing trouble reaching even Manhattan, will be bused directly from those areas to the starting line. Organizers planned to release complete details on transportation Friday.
Aside from Staten Island, the runners won't see the hardest-hit areas. The 26-mile route, which winds from Staten Island to Brooklyn, then Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and back into Manhattan for the finish in Central Park, never included such hard-hit areas as Coney Island and Lower Manhattan.
Although Bloomberg argued that the race would inject much-needed cash into the city, particularly for small businesses, some New Yorkers stressed the intangible benefits of pushing ahead with the race.
"I think it'll be a great testament to the city's resilience," first-time marathoner Latif Peracha, who was driven from his flooded neighborhood in Manhattan's Tribeca, told the AP.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza, however, would have none of it, noting that Staten Island is still staggering from the storm and should not have city resources diverted elsewhere.
"This is an example of what infuriates us," Lanza told The Daily News. "We have people still in water, families displaced, people wondering where their grandparents are."