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Starting Line of Canceled Marathon, New York’s Staten Island Overcome by Post-Sandy Desperation

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says up to 40,000 displaced residents are now in need of shelter in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That’s the same number of runners who would have ran the New York City Marathon that, up until Friday night, Bloomberg had insisted would go on. Bloomberg had for days resisted calls to cancel the marathon, saying he wanted New York City to show it could get past the storm. But Bloomberg’s critics say the people of New York wanted to do the same — and use the city’s resources toward the recovery effort, not staging a giant marathon. Amy Goodman files a report from the devastated borough of Staten Island, which would have been the marathon’s starting point had it gone forward. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, back in New York City, as we continue our coverage of Superstorm Sandy.

One of the hardest-hit areas of New York has been Staten Island. The storm killed at least 22 people there. Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that more than 40,000 New York residents have been displaced and need shelter. You know, that’s interesting, because more than 40,000 runners were expected to run, the same number, in the New York Marathon this weekend. Ultimately, it was canceled, but not because Michael Bloomberg wanted it canceled, the mayor. It was because his staff revolted. The New York—the New York police commissioner revolted. Bloomberg had insisted it would go on, to the shock of his staff. He had, for, oh, days, resisted calls to cancel the marathon, saying he wanted New York City to show it could get past the storm. But Bloomberg’s critics say the people of New York want to do exactly the same thing—get past the storm—and use the city’s resources toward the recovery effort, not staging a giant marathon. The New York Times reports Bloomberg finally relented Friday night after New York City Marathon director Mary Wittenberg told him it had to be scrapped. So it ultimately was canceled.

Hany Massoud, Democracy Now! video producer, and I headed out to Staten Island yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re approaching the Verrazano Bridge. That’s the bridge that links Brooklyn with Staten Island. Since '96, it has been the starting point for the New York City Marathon. But at the very last minute, Mayor Bloomberg said, for the first time ever, the marathon would not take place. The mayor didn't want to close it. His deputy mayors and the police commissioner said no way. And particularly people on Staten Island said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Staten Island is so hard hit by the superstorm. Many people are out of their homes, a number of people were killed. Instead of using the police and the generators, as it gets cold, for the runners and for the reporters that would be covering the run, they said, “We need the help.” And so, that’s why Democracy Now! is headed to Staten Island right now.

It’s cold outside, so I’m putting on another layer. And we are coming up to a Hess gas station. There’s a lot of people on line. So, we’re going to check out why.

So, we’re just checking out what people are doing here.


AMY GOODMAN: What’s your name?

STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: Situation’s horrible.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you live?

STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: I live on Staten Island, Rosebank.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you doing? Where did you get the gas?

STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: From Hess. Well, actually, from FEMA. It’s federally funded, so we’re getting back our own gas. They’re doing something right for once.


STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: Other than that, it’s horrible. Situation’s horrible. The mayor wanted to run a marathon. They provide generators in Central Park. There’s people in areas without power. And where’s the generators for them? Come on. I mean, the mayor, you’ve got to be getting some money, whatever; you’re a mega-billionaire. So donate. Come down. Something, anything. No power, food, electric, gas. One of my co-workers, he’s been without power for like the past week. His basement, destroyed. He’s got no heat, hot water, gas, electric, so he’s staying with me for a while. I mean, what are you going to do?

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s keep driving down the road. We’re just on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge. This is actually Fort Wadsworth, where the marathon would have begun. You see the empty tents. We’ve got just hundreds of porta-potties that are lined up here.



AMY GOODMAN: Were you working with the marathon?

MARATHON OFFICIAL: Off camera, please.




The New York Marathon people wouldn’t talk, but maybe this guy doesn’t work for them, and maybe he’ll say something. He’s security.


SECURITY GUARD: Hi. How are you doing?

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is canceled?


AMY GOODMAN: This is canceled, the race?


AMY GOODMAN: What do you think about that? You think that was appropriate?


AMY GOODMAN: Do you live on Staten Island?


AMY GOODMAN: So why did they cancel it?

SECURITY GUARD: Huh? Because of opposition between people. Some people wanted to cancel it; some people didn’t want to.


SECURITY GUARD: And there’s a lot of pressure, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN: And why do you think it’s a good idea?

SECURITY GUARD: It’s a good idea because the mayor is supposed to be for the people of New York. And this is your backyard; you’re supposed to take care of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what needs to be done here? Can you describe what happened on Staten Island?

SECURITY GUARD: Well, there’s a lot of things. All you have to do is walk straight down here. You’re right here in the disaster zone, OK? South Beach, Midland Beach, Ocean Breeze, everything. People out here with no food, no clothes, everything. Come on. And then you had all this water out here, all this food, generators. People need this. Hey.

AMY GOODMAN: Was the food and water and generators right here, was it set up for the marathon?

SECURITY GUARD: The food and everything wasn’t set up. Generators were here. Water was here.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s quite an image of generators here at the start of the marathon, but not down the road.

SECURITY GUARD: Right, exactly, exactly. But they woke up. They’ve donated the stuff and everything. That was good. You have to take care, take care of your home. You have to.

AMY GOODMAN: So you used to live here?

SECURITY GUARD: Oh, yeah. I just moved last year.

AMY GOODMAN: To where?


AMY GOODMAN: Are you thankful you moved?

SECURITY GUARD: You could say that. But I have a family that live in Far Rockaway, and they’re going through the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask what’s happening? What’s the word of your family in Far Rockaway?

SECURITY GUARD: Well, they had to be evacuated. They—they’re gone. We had to separate them. You know, some people had to get out of Far Rockaway to go to Jamaica, Queens. Some had to go to Brooklyn. Some had to go out to Long Island. Had to separate everybody. But making the best of it.

AMY GOODMAN: We just kept driving through the streets, street after street of mass destruction.

So, here we are on Father Capodanno Boulevard. We’re next to the Atlantic Ocean. These houses are devastated, the smell of oil coming from one house. They said the DEP was supposed to come. It’s frightening. Also, a car rode up on a wave in front of this house. But there’s some kind of oil tank below that I think could be very dangerous. Here, the family of Irina and others are trying to rebuild already. Another car floated up on their property. The rubble in the backyard. Their couch is in the backyard. The water came about 10, 12 feet up.

IRINA: My name Irina.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you think of the marathon about to be run down the road?

IRINA: Oh, I was really happy they canceled it, because we are staying over in Brooklyn. And if it will be marathon today, we can—we don’t have ability to come here, because bridge is closed, and everybody will be just stuck. So we just continue working today, because it’s—

UNIDENTIFIED: They still ran it. They just held—

AMY GOODMAN: What time?

UNIDENTIFIED: I mean, they still ran the marathon. They just brought like clothes and—

IRINA: Yeah, people from marathon, they came, and they brought some stuff, like—


IRINA: Yeah, gloves and garbage bags, which is we really need, some detergent, something.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean runners came?


IRINA: Yeah, runners, they were—

AMY GOODMAN: And helped you?

IRINA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We are in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge, not a mile from the Fort Wadsworth, where the marathon was going to begin. That’s where they had the generators. That’s where they had the lights. That’s where they had the electricity and the food, and the water was planning to come, until, as she said, the community rose up and said, “How can you do it for them, but not for us?” But more, she said, it would have meant the closing of the bridges. And that’s how they’re going back and forth. That’s how they’re beginning to rebuild. This is, well, just down the road from where lives were lost. And we’re moving on here on Staten Island.

What’s your name?

STEVE: Steve.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve. So you stayed in your house through the whole thing?

STEVE: Yeah, we stayed in house.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see the wave?

STEVE: Yes, I see—

AMY GOODMAN: What did it look—what did it look like?

STEVE: Oh, I came from my backyard, inviting people in stay in the car, come in the car. And the wave come in here. And I tell to them it—the car—

AMY GOODMAN: And you saw people and told them to come into your house?

STEVE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you went on the top floor?

STEVE: Yeah, on the top, on the third floor.

AMY GOODMAN: Whoa! Watch out!

Tell me your name, why you’re here.

JOSE GARCIA: Jose Garcia. I’m a retired police officer from New York, and we’re here with family and friends from Brooklyn, came over with hot food today because we know how hard Staten Island was hit. So we’re just out here giving out our food and stuff, so that way we can just help out as much as we can. I’ve been through September 11th. I was there for the bombing back in '93 at the World Trade Center. I have never seen anything like this. And, I mean, everybody is coming together, and I think they're going to make it through this, you know? It’s just going to take some time.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of global warming and climate change?

JOSE GARCIA: I think it’s changing. I think this may be just the first big one, and we may get stuff even worse as they years go by. I mean, if you’ve seen last year, it was a bad storm. This year got worse, you know, and as the years go by, it seems like we’re getting more and more, you know, destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think we have to change our way of living, maybe be less dependent on fossil fuels to stop warming up the earth?

JOSE GARCIA: I’m not going to go there on that one, but yeah, I think we should. I think we should find other means and ways of using other natural resources to—to heat up and for fuel and everything, cleaner—cleaner type of energies.

AMY GOODMAN: Climate change, global warming. As we end our report, I’m standing in front of a massive garbage dump that’s made out of the refuse from the houses that once were, here on the south side of Staten Island. We’ve got light here from a generator, but many communities still, almost a week into this catastrophe, Superstorm Sandy, don’t have electricity. This dump is situated right next to the Atlantic Ocean, whose sea level is rising every year. I’m Amy Goodman for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: And special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Hany Massoud.

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