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NYC Marathon CEO: It will help bring city together

The decision to move forward with the New York City Marathon this weekend will offer a chance to help a region devastated by a natural disaster get back on its feet while raising millions of dollars for recovery efforts, the race’s president said Thursday on TODAY.

“We’re going to use this platform to really say, here’s how you can help. Donate to the Mayor’s Fund. Donate to American Red Cross. Help New Yorkers get back on their feet, help everyone in this entire region,” said Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of the New York Road Runners. “We’re on national television and global television. That will be a chance to help New York and this entire area move forward and rebound.”

Critics have expressed skepticism over how New York can host a major sporting event on Sunday. "I think this is a ludicrous decision," said ad exec Donnie Deutsch on the TODAY's Professionals panel later Thursday morning.

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Before Hurricane Sandy hit earlier this week, the marathon was expected to draw roughly 47,000 runners, 8,000 volunteers and 2 millions spectators. Yet, as of Thursday, more than 600,000 residents still lacked electricity and some parts of the subway system remained far from functional. In addition, flooding continued to be a concern in numerous downtown garages and along various streets.

But Wittenberg said the marathon embodies the perseverance and endurance of the locals.

“The marathon is a day that’s all about the triumph of the human spirit and the idea is, come Sunday, to really help bring New Yorkers back together,” she said.

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On Wednesday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed the race would be held as planned as a way to show the city’s resolve. Wittenberg suggested her organization would have supported the mayor regardless of his decision.

“I would have said, 'what’s the best thing for New Yorkers, come Sunday?'” she said. “When he said, 'the best thing is to go,' the answer is to do everything we can to support this city.”

The hurricane’s aftermath, however, has forced the marathon to adjust its schedule. The opening ceremony scheduled for Friday night, along with other events, have been cancelled. In addition, organizers have arranged for a private company to provide buses for participants.

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“Our job is to respond to what the city needs and asks to do, and to do so without draining any of the resources that are really rightly focused on recovery,” she said.

Wittenberg said her organization has heard from runners around the world still determined to make it to New York for for the event.

“People are coming. People want to be here in support," she said. "We actually hear a lot of support, people saying, ‘I want to help New York. I want to help it get back on its feet. I want to be there, I want to support local businesses that have been out of business for a while.'" 

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