The Staten Island Runner

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February 9, 2000 

NYRROArs   by Glenn Ribotsky

An ongoing commentary on issues in the Staten Island and metropolitan road racing community, complied through the auspices of the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation.


It’s not often that this space offers two columns in a row on the same subject, but it seems warranted this month in light of recent developments that involve the New York Road Runners Club’s relationship to the communities in Staten Island its activities impact (the subject of last month’s column), and also its relations with one subgroup within the racing community (as was the subject of a column a few months ago). Depending on your point of view, these developments could be considered a harbinger of an improved sensitivity on the Club’s part, or merely the delayed and reluctant response of an organization facing continued public embarrassment. Read on, and judge for yourself.

To take the local perspective first, remember how last time this space detailed the difficulties with this past year’s New York City Marathon staging and starting area, which for the first time in the event’s history was not confined to the grounds of Fort Wadsworth, but spilled out into the local streets, and the Club’s not-very-forthcoming response to the complaints of the local residents whose property was fouled by the preparing marathoners? Even the efforts of local Community Board 1 (the marathon staging area is part of their jurisdiction) to get information as to why what happened did happen, and how to prevent it from happening again, were largely unsuccessful, enough so that the Board passed a number of strongly worded resolutions. The Club, for its part, stonewalled—until (surprise, surprise) a local politician (with, as the song goes, “plenty of ambition”) got into the act. Deputy Borough President Jim Molinaro, one of Borough President Guy Molinari’s closest staffers (and a probable candidate for the office when Molinari’s term expires), demanded—and got—a meeting with Club representatives. Particularly enraged over photographs showing runners relieving themselves on area streets, Molinaro apparently told Club representatives Vic Navarra (the Marathon start coordinator, and a familiar name to readers of this column) and Jake LaSala (the race’s technical director, who has also been involved in controversy with NYRROA and other members of the Staten Island running community, particularly over his supervision of the Navarra-administered Summer Speed Series) that under no circumstances would the Club be allowed to use areas outside of Fort Wadsworth in the future. After a little bit of legal wrangling concerning the language of a proposed press release on the subject, the Club agreed to keep the race confined to the Fort grounds from now on. Still unanswered is why areas outside of Fort Wadsworth were being used in the first place (both Staten Island Advance reporter Marjorie Hack, who authored an article on this situation and spoke with me on some of the history involved, and some members of the Club’s Board of Directors I contacted, mentioned a rumor that the Coast Guard, or whoever has jurisdiction over the Fort now, has been trying to confine the ever-growing race to smaller and smaller areas of the Fort, but there has been no confirmation from either the Fort or the Club on that).

It may be looked upon as surprising—or encouraging—that the Club acceded to Molinaro’s conditions so easily, although Molinaro, as reported in Ms. Hack’s article, apparently approached the meeting as not one of negotiation, but of dictation of terms. This was related by Club president Allan Steinfeld, who Ms. Hack was able to reach and speak to without much problem—again, a reversal of the Club’s recent history (Steinfeld has been notoriously difficult to reach when the discussion would is likely to be less than complimentary). Steinfeld also said the Club would offer to compensate aggrieved homeowners who provide documentation of damage caused to their property by race participants. These all seem to be hopeful signs that the Club is become more concerned with being a good neighbor, although it could be argued that the Club could offer no less from a legal standpoint (and had probably been advised so by counsel), and that it could ill afford to offend a possible future borough president who might hold power over the race in the future.

The other situation involved the lawsuit brought against the marathon and the Club by a number of wheelchair racers over what they considered to be shabby treatment at the Club’s hands—treatment that, in their view, also violated the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Club agreed early in January to settle the federal suit and for the first time provide a formal wheelchair division, complete with monetary prizes and awards-ceremony recognition (none of which had been existent at the New York City Marathon, which put it in stark public relations contrast with other major national marathons—see my column of 8/15/99 on this web site’s archives). Also, the Club promised not to engage in such past practices as stopping wheelchair athletes when the elite able-bodied competitors and their accompanying press phalanx would pass.

Again, considering that the Club faced a drawn-out and costly legal wrangle if they did not settle the suit, not to mention an ongoing public relations/perceptions headache (as one plaintiff, Tony Nogueira, indicated, “I’ve raced all over the world—Boston, Los Angeles, Berlin, London—and they all had separate wheelchair divisions”—rumor had it that some other marathons were already taking subtle digs at the New York City Marathon in their promotional literature), there was probably little the Club could do (again, under advice of counsel) but capitulate. The very fact that the plaintiffs felt they needed to resort to a lawsuit in the first place speaks volumes about the Club’s approachability on such issues (it is doubtful that such an expensive and time-consuming strategy would have been pursued by the plaintiffs if the Club had offered to seriously discuss the issues at any point), but perhaps, again, the Club is seeking to improve its image in this area. Or, perhaps, at the very least, it’s learning a lesson. Is this indicative of a sea change in the attitude of the Club’s administration, and can a more open and responsive Club be expected in the future? Or has the Club only reluctantly agreed to back down in these two specific cases, and will future situations be approached with its traditional surly reluctance to communicate and compromise? Surely the Club’s braintrust must be aware that and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but, to use two hackneyed phrases in one sentence, only time will tell.

Glenn Ribotsky
Chair, New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation
84 Vogel Loop
Staten Island, NY 10314