By Juan Soto
The race is on and it looks like there could be a photo-finish shot at the City Hall race track.
With the City Council divided over the proposed horse-drawn carriage ban, organizations, elected officials and unions are coming out to take a stand on the controversial bill introduced by Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and strongly favored by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Banning the industry was one of the mayor’s campaign promises. The legislation calls for an end to horse-drawn carriages by the mid 2016.
“We took a stand for the protection of our animals,” said Dromm, and the bill’s co-sponsor, Ydanis Rodríguez.
On Monday, no one held their horses as the two sides held rallies two hours apart on the steps of City Hall. .
About 100 animal-rights advocates called on the Council to pass the bill to ban the industry. Among them was NYCLASS, a nonprofit that pushed for the abolishment of the industry during last year’s mayoral campaign. The organization bashed de Blasio’s main opponent, former City Council Spekaer Christine Quinn, in a media blitz.
PETA joined with NYCLASS to cheer the introduction of the bill by Dromm and Rodríguez. The animal rights group said the ban “will increase the welfare of our horses by taking them off of our streets and to a safe haven where they can thrive.”
Before there is a final vote on the bill, the proposed legislation will have to pass the Council’s Transportation Committee and then undergo an environmental impact review for six months.
Both sides of the issues are confident the bill’s welfare is going to go their way.
“Our horses can no longer be forced to share our bustling roadways with buses, ambulances, taxis and trucks,” Dromm and Rodríguez said. “We cannot and we will not stand for these conditions any longer.”
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) opposes the bill.
“I was elected to help promote the economy, not undermine it,” he said. “ These horses are treated very well. There is no economic, social or humane reason to abolish the industry.”
Lancman pointed out that for the bill to pass “26 councilmen have to look at their constituents in the eyes and tell them they are putting 300 people out of work.”
Paul McDaid, a Woodside resident, has been driving a horse carriage for the past 26 years.
“I am an optimist,” he said. “I don’t think this bill is going to pass in the Council.”
McDaid said he loves his job, and without it, he would be lost in the job market. “If I am out of a job, I really wouldn’t know where to look,” he said.
If the bill is approved, the legislation would allow the 300 drivers to get green outer boroughs taxi permits.
“I don’t want to drive a car, I want to keep driving my horse,” McDaid said.
Taxi drivers are backing the horse carriages drivers, who would be given permits for green outborough taxis under the bill if the ban went through.
“Workers can’t be just moved around like pieces on a chess board,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the 18,000-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
She pointed out there is a waiting list and a protocol to follow to apply for the green taxi permits processed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Will horse carriage drivers who never operated a vehicle for hire be given preference over livery, black car and taxi drivers on the waiting list?” Desai asked.
“The horse carriage industry, similar to taxis, is highly regulated and the drivers have worked for years to create important protections for the horses they care for,” she said. “And they’ve struggled to build good jobs, among the few remaining in this economy, especially for new immigrants with professional care-taking skills.”
Horse carriage driver Ángel Hernández is proud of the work he does. Without the industry, he asked, “What I am suppose to do without this job?”
As one of the about 300 carriage operators, Hernández wonders “how do I pay for my bills? Provide for my children?”
He said he hopes the Council “doesn’t take this job away from my family.”
George Miranda, president of the Teamster Joint Council 16, asked Council members to oppose the bill.
“If the City Council takes away their jobs, these workers will lose everything, and they haven’t done anything wrong,” Miranda said.
Miranda, who represents about 120,000 downstate New York Workers, including the horse-drawn carriage drivers, added, “We are asking the City Council to oppose this bill, and we intend to win.”
Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.