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New York Marathon canceled, Bloomberg says

The 26.2-mile race that would have wound its way through each borough in the city on Sunday has been canceled, Mayor Bloomberg said, because it has become "the source of controversy and division." NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

NEW YORK – The New York Marathon will not be held Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday, backtracking just a few hours after he defended the decision to hold it despite heavy criticism as the city struggles back from Superstorm Sandy.

"While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division," he said in a statement Friday evening shortly after NBC 4 New York and a few other media outlets reported the cancellation.

"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," Bloomberg added. "We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event -- even one as meaningful as this -- to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."

Related: NBCNewYork.com coverage of Marathon's cancellation

A few hours earlier, Bloomberg told a press conference that holding the marathon would be a morale and money boost for the city.

“If you think back to 9/11, I think Rudy [Giuliani] made the right decision to run the marathon,” Bloomberg said of his predecessor after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “It pulled people together and we have to find some ways to express ourselves and show solidarity to each other.” 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defends his decision to keep the New York Marathon on schedule in the wake of Sandy, recalling how the marathon "pulled people together after 911."

The New York City marathon is the world largest, with tens of thousands of participants. In a typical year, New Yorkers line the route’s 26 miles, turning the city into a giant party.

The race winds through all five boroughs, but it starts in hard-hit Staten Island, parts of which look like a disaster zone.

New York City Councilman James Oddo, who represents sections of Staten Island and Brooklyn, had been leading the charge against the marathon.

“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,” he posted on Twitter earlier in the week.

At least 19 of New York's 41 deaths occurred in the oft-forgotten borough, home to 500,000. Officials are still searching homes for survivors. 

Jonathan Sanger / NBC News

Runners and workers prepare for the New York City Marathon near Central Park in New York, N.Y. where generators were set up on Friday, November 2, 2012 to power a media tent.

The death toll in the U.S. from Superstorm Sandy neared 100 victims on Friday, as New York City reported one more death and Bloomberg warned: "There could be more fatalities."

“The prudent course of action here — postpone the marathon, come back a different day,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “Our first priority, let’s help people who lost their homes, who are missing loved ones."

Stringer said downtown Manhattan, the city’s financial hub, "looks like a wasteland" and is not close to being ready for the race, which goes through each of New York’s five boroughs.

Bloomberg had vowed the marathon would not divert any resources from victims, and expected power to be restored to downtown Manhattan by race day.

In defending his decision to go forward, the mayor cited the thousands of out-of-town visitors who come for the marathon. 

Richard Drew / AP

Workers assemble the finish line for the New York City Marathon in New York's Central Park, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. The crane atop a high rise that collapsed during Superstorm Sandy is visible at background left.

Those visitors need hotel rooms, but many of them already are occupied by New Yorkers displaced from their homes. Richard Nicotra, who owns the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, has refused to throw out evacuees to honor reservations for marathon runners, according to NY1.

With power scarce, the three generators set up Friday to provide electricity to the marathon’s media tent in Central Park along the Upper West Side drew some attention.

The two active generators crank out 800 kilowatts of electricity, which would be enough to power 400 homes, the New York Post reported. The third unit, a backup, sits idle, in case one of others fails, the paper said. 

Paul McCarthy, 43, who lives nearby, was walking his dog down Central Park West on Friday as marathon workers and runners whizzed by him.

“I woke up this morning and a lot of people on my Facebook page were saying they should shut it down, but my neighbor just reminded me that a third of the runners come from overseas. So logistically, they wouldn’t be able to reschedule it, I don’t think,” he said. “Maybe it would be a good thing for the city just to get something positive going.”

Vote: Do you think the New York City Marathon should be cancelled?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer tells TODAY's Savannah Guthrie he believes Mayor Bloomberg should postpone the New York City marathon as congressman Michael Grimm from Staten Island says he's "angry" over plans to continue with the race

His overall assessment of holding the marathon on Sunday: “Slightly net positive.”

Alberto Eguiguren, 48, a runner from Chile, arrived Thursday night with his two brothers, also marathon runners.

"It shows how the American people are always fighting to have a better country. Even though there was a disaster over the weekend, the people are ready -- not only for the local people but the international, too. We’re here because we really like the States, we really like New York. We really feel it’s one of the best places to run a marathon.... There are a lot of people with damages, but the stores are open, the streets are working. It’s amazing.”

But others are less approving of Bloomberg’s decision.

A Facebook page called “Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon” had more than 27,000 likes and growing on Friday morning. Claiming to be started by a New York City resident, the page says, “The last thing NYC needs at this time is an extra 100,000 people or so flooding our already devastated streets. Things are not back to normal. Our city is working hard enough to recover please do not complicate things with a race.”

David Friedman / NBC News

Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday evening on a destructive and deadly path across the Northeast.

One commenter suggested Bloomberg should “postpone [the race] for a month or so and then use the race as a perfect platform to showcase how ALL 5 BOROUGHS have recovered. That shows resilience, and RESPECT for the citizens who have suffered, without foregoing the economic benefits of the race.”

Another commenter asked, "Who would ever want to go to a war zone to run a marathon?"

The New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, said the event will bring $340 million to the city. The club also announced on Thursday that it would donate at least $1 million, or $26.20 for each of the more than 40,000 runners expected to participate, to aid New Yorkers affected by Sandy. 

The Rudin Family, one of the founding members of the marathon, said it would donate $1.1 million and the ING Foundation said it would give $500,000. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

Nineteen bodies have been found in Staten Island following Hurricane Sandy and many fear the number will rise. A growing number of Staten Islanders are outraged by what they describe as the slow response from relief organizations. NBC News' Ann Curry reports.

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