Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week his team is working on a bill to reduce by over 80 percent the number of horse carriage operators in Central Park and move the stables at which horses are lodged to inside the park, a shift from previous efforts that focused on banning the industry altogether.
His ascension from mayoral long shot to City Hall was aided by his pledge to ban horse carriage rides in Central Park, but almost two years into his tenure that promise remains unfulfilled. In comments last week he revealed the new approach would move the stables to inside the park, so horses would not have to contend with city traffic, and reduce the number of carriage operators from their current level of over 200 to just three dozen.
The debate is currently framed by a group of animal rights activists on one side, most notably NYClass, which contributed significantly to de Blasio’s mayoral ambitions. On the other side is the Teamsters Joint Council 16, which counts among its ranks horse carriage drivers.
The activists maintain that having large animals in a major urban center is cruel and that the horses are regularly mistreated. The Teamsters refute those charges of abuse and cast drivers as an iconic part of New York City. Polls show that the public, meanwhile, is mostly opposed to the ban while support for a ban in the city council is tepid at best.
NYClass spent about $1 million attacking de Blasio’s chief rival, former city council speaker Christine Quinn, in 2013’s democratic mayoral primary. Their support was based on de Blasio’s campaign promise to enact a ban if elected.
But for the past two years his efforts to ban the industry have failed due to a lack of political support. In August he appeared to have all but given up on the issue saying it was in the hands of city council members.
As for the new proposal, both sides appear to be taking a wait and see approach.
“NYClass’ number one priority is and has always been the safety of carriage horses. We need to see more details, and frankly, we need to see action and not just promises,” said the group in a statement. “But we will continue to work with the mayor and city leaders to protect the horses.”
The group deferred any additional comment until after the bill is written. The Teamsters, meanwhile, indicated that they’re open to compromise but are also waiting for more information.
“New Yorkers have made it clear that they stand behind the carriage drivers and want this iconic institution to stay,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “We have always been open to compromise, but the Teamsters would accept nothing short of preserving the horse carriage industry and the livelihoods of our members.”
De Blasio passed up an opportunity to expand on the bill at a news conference last week, telling reporters that his administration is in the middle of a back-and-forth with members of the city council.
Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, said her group is disappointed in what appears to be a compromise on the issue. “The mayor promised a full ban on this inhumane and unsafe business and anything less is simply unacceptable,” she said. “There is no way this new proposal will work - beginning with taking public park land from the public for a private business. It is nothing more than a ploy to keep activists at bay while the mayor runs for reelection.”
Forel said a “true compromise” would be to retrofit the existing carriages so they operate with motors not horses. “But the unions and drivers have to be willing,” she said. “If they do not agree, then the drivers will have to continue to endure people insulting them as animal abusers. Their choice.”