NEW YORK —Â Mayor Michael Bloomberg triedÂ to sell the New York City Marathon as a symbolic victory for the city after aÂ devastating storm, invoking two of the biggest symbols of them all — RudyÂ Giuliani and 9/11.
The former mayor, Bloomberg said, made the right decision by holding theÂ marathon less than two months after the 2001 terror attacks: “It pulled peopleÂ together, and we have to find some ways to express ourselves and show ourÂ solidarity with each other.”
Then, he kept talking.
“You have to keep going and doing things, and you can grieve, you can cry andÂ you can laugh all at the same time,” he said.
And once again, the city cringed, hearing another false note that renewedÂ familiar criticism that New York’s billionaire businessman mayor is tone-deaf toÂ suffering in a crisis. By the time the mayor changed course three hours laterÂ Friday and called off the world’s largest marathon, he had already offended aÂ passel of flood-weary New Yorkers.
“He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else isÂ dealing with,” fumed Joan Wacks, whose waterfront condo in Staten Island wasÂ under 4 feet of water. “He’s supposed to be the mayor of all the city, but he’sÂ really the mayor of Manhattan.”
It was a rare reversal for Bloomberg, who’s known for sticking by hisÂ decisions, however unpopular. He’s built a reputation for being an efficient,Â independent-minded pragmatist in office, a philanthropist and public healthÂ innovator, and he has gotten praise for the city’s preparedness for theÂ storm.
But at times, people say he lacks empathy for the people he leads.
There was the post-Christmas blizzard that dumped 2 feet of snow on the cityÂ in 2010, when the mayor raised hackles by encouraging New Yorkers to enjoy theÂ snow or see a Broadway show to help the city’s economy. Residents said the mayorÂ failed to appreciate the outer-borough New Yorkers stranded by snow drifts thatÂ hadn’t been plowed, unable and without the money to go to the theater.
There was a long-running feud about Sept. 11 victims’ remains that wereÂ recovered in downtown Manhattan five years after the attacks. A victim’s familyÂ member, Diane Horning, said then that the mayor indicated he didn’t identifyÂ with families wanting their loved ones’ remains because he wanted to donate hisÂ body to science.
Bloomberg was branded an out-of-touch, big-business cheerleader when he saidÂ Con Edison’s chairman “deserves a thanks from this city” amid a 10-day blackoutÂ that affected 174,000 people in parts of Queens in July 2006.
“Going after the CEO just because somebody wants to have somebody to blameÂ doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Bloomberg said as the outage was in its eighthÂ sweltering day. The remark raised eyebrows, even among the politicians standingÂ behind the mayor at a news briefing.
All this week, the mayor kept returning to economics when defending hisÂ decision to keep the marathon going. Officials said the marathon brings in $340Â million; it was unclear how much the city still stands to get from the thousandsÂ of runners already in town.
“I think for those who were lost,” he said earlier this week, “you’ve got toÂ believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on.”
He faced criticism from everyone from sanitation workers unhappy that theyÂ had volunteered to help storm victims but were assigned to the race, to policeÂ union leaders, to the Manhattan borough president to his ally, City CouncilÂ Speaker Christine Quinn.
Melanie Bright, who went three days without electricity and hot water, saidÂ the mayor didn’t get it. “He feels like we should carry on with our lives, evenÂ though people have lost everything,” she said.
In a sign of how swiftly the tide turned, City Hall told local officials wellÂ into midafternoon that the race was on, according to a person familiar with theÂ situation, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenesÂ conversations.
Ultimately, Bloomberg canceled the event.
“We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one asÂ meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the criticallyÂ important work that is being done to recover from the storm.”
The decision quickly drew praise from some of the same officials who hadÂ slammed the marathon schedule hours earlier. The mayor made a “sensitive andÂ prudent decision that will allow the attention of this city to remain focused onÂ its recovery,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
But for Eddie Kleydman, motioning toward huge piles of ruined furniture inÂ his Staten Island street, the mayor’s last-minute change of heart wasn’tÂ enough.
“He’s worried about the marathon. I’m worried about getting power,” KleydmanÂ said. “So he called it off. He has to come here and help us clean.”