Forget stop-and-frisk or income inequality-apparently, one of the first issues new Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to tackle in office is the removal of carriage horses from Central Park.
“We are going to get rid of the horse carriages-period,” de Blasio said on Monday, Dec. 30, just two days before officially becoming New York City’s 109th mayor. “They are not humane, they are not appropriate for the year 2014. It’s over. So, just watch us do it.”
It must be a testament to the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg’s service as mayor that the fate of Central Park carriage horses-a popular tourist attraction for decades-is the most pressing item on the de Blasio agenda. But is this really about the plight of horses or something more political?
The movement to ban carriage horses has gained steam with the founding of NYCLASS in 2008, whose name stands for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets. They are committed to animal rights and have been calling for banning the carriages and replacing them with vintage electric cars to give tourists rides around Central Park.
They backed de Blasio’s run for mayor during his heated primary race against former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and he promised to eliminate the carriage horse trade if elected.
NYCLASS was co-founded by Steve Nislick, CEO of Edison Properties, and there has been much speculation that Nislick is interested in acquiring land on Manhattan’s West Side. Part of that parcel includes the four stables under the management of Conor McHugh of the Clinton Park Stables that house the carriage horses.
But the issues gets a little muddy because the carriage horse industry-made up of about 300 drivers-joined a local Teamsters chapter a few years ago. That chapter endorsed Quinn in the primary but backed de Blasio in the general election against Republican Joe Lhota.
Demos Demopoulos, secretary/treasurer and executive officer of Teamsters Local #553 stated, “We are against the thought of the electric car replacing the horse carriage industry.”
Carriage driver, Christina Hansen, a spokesperson for the industry, said the drivers were prepared to fight de Blasio in court. “It’s not over,” she said. “Your cannot just get rid of a business-a perfectly legal, well-regulated one-just because a few people don’t like it.”
Animal rights activists have long complained about the treatment of carriage horses, from their overuse during the heat of summer to living conditions in the stables. But wouldn’t the more common sense approach be to eliminate the abuses and bad practices within the industry before deciding to eliminate the industry altogether? Somehow, that question is not being asked.
When one connects the dots in this controversy, it’s hard to see that the best interests of both equine and human New Yorkers are being served here. It looks like just another New York political power play wrapped in a good intention.
Let’s see who winds up in the winner’s circle.