Fight is on to ban horse-drawn carriages

By Juan Soto

Horse-drawn carriages in and around Central Park’s roadways have been a part of the city for at least the last century.

But now, the Bill de Blasio administration and some city councilmen want to erase that metropolitan tourist attraction by banning the industry to fulfill a campaign promise. The controversial bill’s main goal is to phase out horse-drawn carriage drivers by mid 2016.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), lead sponsor for the bill, said the legislation will be introduced at this month’s stated meeting of the Council.

“Horses don’t belong on New York City’s congested streets amid cars and pollution,” he said. “There have been too many crashes and too many horse deaths and injuries to justify the continuation of this industry.”

Dromm said he, like many animal rights groups, including the People for the Ethical treatment of Animals and the American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stands “in this struggle against animal cruelty.”

NYCLASS, a nonprofit animal-rights group, pushed for the horse-drawn carriage ban during the mayoral campaign, bashing De Blasio’s chief rival, Christine Quinn. The group held a rally Wednesday in front of City Hall insisting the ban go forward.

But de Blasio’s plans infuriated horse carriage drivers.

“This is unacceptable because it’s just a matter of a personal agenda,” said Stephen Malone, who has been working in the industry for the past 27 years.

He is the son of a Bayside couple who started in the business in 1964. “This is ludicrous,” he said.

The City Council is up for a strong dialectical battle. A dozen or so members favor the bill, another dozen oppose it, and about 26 members are undecided.

It is unclear if the bill will garner enough support. For the bill to be approved, it needs the favorable vote of at least 26 City Council members.

The mayor will try to lobby councilmen to his side.

“We will begin the process of talking through with council members,” de Blasio told a news conference. Tuesday. “I have a lot of confidence that the common sense will win the day here, that it doesn’t make sense to have horses in the middle of the streets of the busiest city in the country.”

Public opinioned is not that divided. According to four polls conducted by Quinnipiac University between January and September, support for the removal of horse-drawn carriages was between 24 and 28 percent, while between 66 and 61 percent of those polled oppose it.

Councilman Costa Costantinides (D-Astoria) is a supporter of the horse-drawn carriage industry. He asked his colleagues in the City Council “to take a strong look at a bill that will put hundreds of families out of work because of a philosophy, because of a feeling.”

Costantinides, noting carriage horse drivers were never convicted of animal cruelty, estimated the industry is the livelihood of about 350 families.

“This is an industry well-regulated, one that has no animal cruelty convictions, so it’s very strange some continue to support the ban,” the lawmaker said.

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), also opposes the ban.

“I cannot support the horse carriage ban unless a replacement has been proven to be viable,” he said.

I. Daneek Miller, chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, does not support the ban.

“While the proposed legislation to ban horse carriages has not yet been officially introduced into the Council, I am looking forward to reviewing the provisions in this bill,” he pointed out. “With that said, I am greatly concerned for the 300-plus workforce employed by this industry. Until we have more details about this legislation, I cannot support such a ban.”

Others, like Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Transportation Committee, back the bill. He said the legislation “would ensure that in New York animal rights are in line with human rights.”

The bill allows for the use of horse-drawn carriages on parades and film sets.

Before the legislation comes to a vote, there is a six-month environmental review of the proposed bill.

The proposal would offer the affected industry workers jobs as green-taxi drivers.

The union that represents the horse carriage drivers criticized the mayor’s intentions. “This is awful news to give a working family just before the holidays,” said George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “At least three hundred carriage drivers will be unemployed if this bill is passed.”

Miranda added, “Our members are horse people. It is all they have ever done and all they want to do.”

Malone loves his job. This is the best little business in the world,” said Malone, who also serves as a spokesman for the carriage horse drivers in the city. “My father was in the industry. I have been around horses and carriages all my life.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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