Two years ago, then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio promised that if elected, he would rid Central Park of horse-drawn carriages in his first week on the job.
Eighteen months after de Blasio took office, the horses and their drivers are still threading city streets, ferrying tourists past city sights, and it seems increasingly likely they will remain.
De Blasio’s push to ban the horse-drawn-carriage industry amid concerns of animal-rights activists and his own view that it isn’t humane appears to face long odds.
“I suspect the strongest reason for delay is a lack of support,” says Ritchie Torres, a Bronx councilman, who doesn’t back the ban. “As far as I know, the bill only has seven sponsors. Even the most controversial pieces of legislation have more than that.”
A spokesman for de Blasio says the mayor remains committed to the proposed ban. “We believe the legislation represents a humane and equitable solution that moves the horses off our streets, safeguards the animals and protects the livelihoods of the men and women who provide carriage rides,” says mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell. He says the legislation remains alive.
The city’s horse-carriage industry is small, made up of a few hundred workers. But the issue surrounding it has commanded substantial political attention, pitting animal-rights activists against the carriage drivers who would lose their jobs.
Since de Blasio came into office the industry has redoubled its lobbying effort. Dozens of carriage drivers have showed up at the offices of city lawmakers. The leaders of their union have enlisted the help of supporters including actor Liam Neeson, who held a pro-carriage rally at the industry’s stables on the far West Side of Manhattan. Animal-rights activists have pushed back, picketing Neeson’s home and taking their case to City Council members.
De Blasio has said he wants to replace the carriages with antique-looking electric cars to help create jobs for the carriage drivers, a plan they have greeted with derision.
Some veteran City Hall watchers are perplexed over how the issue has played out since de Blasio was elected. Some members of the City Council say they hadn’t heard from his office on the issue in months. Over the past year, some say the office has seemed reluctant to discuss the issue, with officials saying they were awaiting an environmental study by Langan, expected to be completed this summer.
Lawmakers say they have been the subjected to an aggressive push from the animal-rights group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS). While the efforts kept the issue at the fore, they seem also to have backfired in some cases.
Torres, the Bronx councilman, says mailers sent by NYCLASS linked the drivers to antigay and racist views. It turned him against the proposed ban. Other council members say they felt harassed by frequent phone calls from the group.
“If you have confidence in your argument, then you should argue it on the merits and not pretend this is about homophobia or racism,” Torres says.
A spokesman for NYCLASS declined to comment on the mailers or the phone calls to City Council members.