Now imagine if New Orleans had a marathon planned for the following weekend after Hurricane Katrina — and Ray Nagin insisted that, despite the state of emergency, tens of thousands of runners hit the streets.
Because that's what's happening in New York right now:
"I think some people said you shouldn't run the marathon," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news briefing Wednesday. "There's an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There's lots of people that have come here. It's a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you've got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind."
OK. Now just imagine the cable-news and talk-radio reaction — even a fraction of the reaction — had Nagin suggested New Orleans hold a marathon six days after Katrina, and that running it was somehow a tribute to those who had perished.
This is the same Bloomberg who, on Saturday, turned down President Barack Obama and FEMA's offer of help:
"President Obama asked Craig Fugate from FEMA to call me earlier in the day and offer any help. I assured him that we had, we think, everything under control but we appreciate the effort. What FEMA really can do is to help those parts of the country that don't have all of the extensive facilities and agencies and practice that New York City does. But I did want to thank them for their offer."(He later reversed himself, saying FEMA had been "spectacularly helpful" so far.)
Yesterday Bloomberg turned down a visit from Obama, saying, "“What I pointed out to them is we would love to have him, but we have lots of things to do."
Perhaps understandable — a presidential visit to a disaster area can create a lot of distraction and chaos.
But a marathon is OK.
Christine Brennan of USA Today says it better than I can:
New York's leaders are shockingly, unbelievably, moving ahead with one of the most logistically challenging sporting events in the world.
This is just what a city reeling from a once-in-a-lifetime storm doesn't need: a massive road race crossing through five boroughs that usually attracts 47,000 runners and 2 million spectators and requires 8,000 volunteers, 1,000 staff members and hundreds of police and other city workers and services. It's an unnecessary distraction coming at the worst time for the city and the region.
I'm not going to defend Ray Nagin's decisions after the storm. But I don't think there is language scathing enough to express what would have been said had Nagin spurned FEMA's help right before Katrina struck — and then forged ahead with a plan to hold a marathon within the week.
So what's the difference?