- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

There will be no DC Marathon next year.

The District government made it quite clear it is not entertaining thoughts of any 26.2-mile events in the city until possibly 2005.

“The task group will not consider any proposal advertising a marathon in D.C. in 2004,” Tanya L. Mitchell, emergency management specialist with the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, said Oct.23 in an e-mail sent to a number of people involved in marathon discussion.

DC EMA is the agency responsible for reviewing applications for citywide events like the DC Marathon.

The mayor’s office earlier dashed any hopes of a March 2004 race when Fonda V. Richardson, special assistant to Mayor Anthony Williams for external and regional affairs, notified Robert Schneider via e-mail that his proposal had been nixed.

Schneider was one of the volunteers who quickly moved in to stage the “Unofficial D.C. Marathon” in March when race organizer H2O Entertainment suddenly canceled 3 days before the event. Schneider subsequently became president of DC Marathon Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to stage a “world-class marathon in Washington, D.C.”

Richardson’s e-mail stated “as previously mentioned, a [Request for Proposal] is being developed for a 2005 Marathon. We are researching marathons held across the country and should have the RFP out before the end of the year. Based on our research, it takes more than six months for an event organizer to produce a successful marathon that will attract national and international interest. In fairness to the city and those interested in responding to the RFP, a 2004 marathon is unrealistic.”

Race organizers have accused the District of stalling until it was too late. They say they contacted the mayor’s office within a week of the March23 race and submitted requests for permits that were denied. Then District officials changed the procedures from a permitting process through DC EMA to a bidding process through the beleaguered D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Organizers said they were promised an RFP from the commission by June but never received one. Then the approval process was transferred back to the old process through DC EMA, but it was too late to prepare for a 2004 event.

The key question is, does the District really want a marathon and its accompanying hassles?

“If the mayor were here, he’d say, ‘I support this kind of event and have no objection to having an event, provided [the organizers] have the experience and financing and support and other necessary requirements,” said the mayor’s spokesman, Tony Bullock. “He is not opposed to having a marathon. But the organizers will have to have a well-established background and the financial backing, in light of what we went through with H2O this year.”

The District sued H2O for pulling the plug and not refunding entry fees — which according to the race application were non-refundable. H2O filed for bankruptcy soon after. According to sources, the two class action suits against H2O recently were dropped.

Bullock said he didn’t believe there was a serious contender to stage a 2004 marathon, nor was he aware of DC Marathon Inc.

The members of DC Marathon Inc. may have had the experience, showcasing on its advisory committee such noted names as Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon; Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon; Les Smith, event director of the Portland Marathon; Dave Watt, executive director of the American Running Association and former marketing director for Marine Corps; and Dan Knise, former president/CEO of the Washington 2012 Olympic Bid Coalition.

Are these people workers or just figureheads?

Add some political power from City Council members Kevin Chavous, Adrian Fenty and Jim Graham, then some business muscle from Bill Hanbury, president/CEO of the Washington Convention and Tourism Bureau, and Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. To their credit, Fenty and Graham were lobbying the city on the group’s behalf.

But could DC Marathon Inc. quickly have organized a 2004 race and raised the money to pay more than $250,000 for police costs and other expenses before relying on entry fees to subsidize the race? The District obviously did not think so.

The support from the top is not there. According to internal District government memos dealing with the 2002 and 2003 marathons, the mayor was more concerned about the fallout from annoying his supporters in the religious community on a Sunday morning than attracting thousands of runners, many of them out-of-town tourists, to a citywide marathon.

Privately, he has shown little interest in the event. But publicly, after H2O Entertainment pulled the plug on the eve of the Iraq war — a move that politically embarrassed a mayor who at that moment was telling the world that his city was safe — Williams talked passionately about his love of the marathon.

If the mayor truly wanted a marathon, his city would have its marathon.

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