The weather stayed cool on May 25, and the runners did not face horrific heat. But the unprecedented uncertainty and controversy kept runners and viewers away in droves. The L.A. Marathon does not disclose the number of its registered runners. But in the past 10 years, according to its Web site, the average number of those who finish the race in a given year is 18,000. This year, fewer than 14,200 completed the marathon.
“Their argument doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t make any sense,” says Peter Abraham, director of the L.A. Marathon, of Bakas’ claim that blocking some streets one day out of 365 harms the churches’ ability to thrive.
Now, the issue over the 2010 race sits before the Los Angeles City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, headed by Councilman Bernard Parks. Parks tells the Weekly, “If the two groups [runners and church leaders] can come together and take care of it, that would be great.” He says it’s not up to the City Council to fix this, and that the McCourt Group is letting City Hall “take the blame.”
In fact, it is up to the City Council, which must now amend the contract it so badly botched, and settle on a date for next year’s marathon. And to make sure the council members ban the marathon on Sunday, Bakas and his Save Our Sabbaths posse have enlisted former mayor Richard Riordan, whom Bakas calls “just a private citizen who has been very helpful to us.” When asked if Riordan is lobbying the council, Bakas tells the Weekly, “I hope so.”
Notably, during the tenure of Riordan, a devout Catholic, the pragmatic mayor never stopped the race from taking place on a Sunday; Riordan was, in fact, a marathon enthusiast. The group’s other headliner lobbyist, Cardinal Roger Mahony, has written to council members, pushing them to ban a Sunday race.
LaBonge now argues that the race belongs on its original Sunday in March, saying, “I believe the best day of the week in L.A. is a Sunday morning.” He’s suggesting a “face-to-face dialogue” between the religious groups and the runners. After all, the runners are the ones forking over about $100 per person to participate, and in many cases they are traveling great distances to run the race here.
The runners are also the ones McCourt must woo in order for his acquisition to turn a profit. Many runners and race supporters, 5,000 of whom signed a petition in recent months, favoring the traditional Sunday in March, are furious. But LaBonge insists, “We have to have agreement from everybody.”
Bakas, whom few Angelenos had heard of before the contretemps, is clearly relishing his bizarrely granted, outsize power over the city, its traditions and dwellers. In an e-mail to council members Janice Hahn, Bill Rosendahl and LaBonge, Bakas compares holding the race on a Sunday to biblical bloodletting: “In this matter we WILL NOT IMITATE JESUS by putting our heads down and be led like ‘sheep to the slaughter.’ ”
Now, the Pasadena Marathon, whose fall 2008 debut was postponed until last February due to wildfires, is again scheduled for February next year, close to the traditional March date of the L.A. Marathon. Who knew a nimby turf war would move the money out to the suburbs?