Newly inaugurated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it his mission to ban the well-known horse-drawn carriages that carry tourists around the city’s Central Park. According to de Blasio and animal rights groups, the horses are treated inhumanely, but New York’s new mayor has faced a surprising amount of resistance to his plan.
“We are going to get rid of the horse carriages, period,” de Blasio announced at a press conference before taking office. “They are not humane, they are not appropriate for the year 2014. It’s over. So, just watch us do it.”
De Blasio’s new plan, backed by animal rights group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, would ban horse-drawn carriages and replace them with a fleet of vintage-style electric cars, allowing tourists to traverse Central Park with clean energy. The horse-drawn carriages have been under fire from animal rights groups like NYCLASS for years, but since de Blasio’s announcement, the fight over equine transportation in the city has become red-hot.
Many of the city’s 300 horse-drawn carriage drivers belong to the Teamsters union, which gives their cause additional lobbying power. Before de Blasio’s ban on carriages becomes official, it would have to pass the City Council, and Teamsters and carriage drivers plan to lobby to keep horse-drawn carriages around. According to a study, the carriages bring in some $19 million annually, a fact that carriage drivers plan to highlight in their campaign to continue their carriage operations.
Carriage drivers have also begun speaking to media outlets, arguing in favor of the carriages’ nostalgic qualities.
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"You can't create tradition. You can't create kids coming with smiles on their faces to pet the horses. You're not getting that with an electric car,” Steven Malone, who has worked as a carriage driver since 1986, explained to CNN. "We want to provide the same service that we've been providing since the park opened in 1858.”
De Blasio isn’t just taking heat from the Teamsters and carriage drivers, either. Plenty of New York journalists have spoken out against the mayor’s proposed ban. The Daily Beast’s Nick Gillespie compared de Blasio’s ban to how the crazed Roman emperor Caligula appointed his horse to political office, arguing that the problem is irrelevant and unworthy of the mayor’s time.
“Even if de Blasio had solved stop-and-frisk outrages, the Mets' front-office problems and Staten Island's image issues, this subject wouldn't be worth thinking about,” Gillespie wrote. “For god’s sake, Catherine the Great was never this fixated on horses.”
Even New York Times writer Andrew Rosenthal criticized de Blasio in the newspaper that endorsed his run, writing that the mayor must have “a problem prioritizing.”
“People who spend time with horses know it’s not inhumane to make them draw carriages,” Rosenthal wrote, adding that the New York Times found in 2011 that the Clinton Park Stables treated its horses adequately.
Despite the pushback, animal rights groups continue to support de Blasio’s push against horse-drawn carriages. Both NYCLASS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say they plan to fight against horse-drawn carriages through legal means.
“It is no longer a question as to whether carriage horses will be phased out in 2014 -- it’s now a question of how it should be done in smoothest manner possible,” NYCLASS executive director Allie Feldman told Politico.
ASPCA spokesman Bret Hopman reiterated the organization’s opposition to horse-drawn carriages in December after a driver was charged with animal cruelty against a horse.
“The ASPCA believes that the use of carriage horses in 21st-century New York City is unnatural, unnecessary and an undeniable strain on the horses’ quality of life,” Hopman told the New York Times.