De Blasio needs to find carriage-horse compromise

A carriage horse returns to the Clinton Park A carriage horse returns to the Clinton Park Horse Stables on Sunday, March 9, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

For Bill de Blasio, the strategic benefit of backing a ban on carriage horses seemed clear enough as he ran for mayor last year. It won him funds and love from animal-rights activists who disdained his campaign rival Christine Quinn, creating one of several ways to set himself apart.

But now, as mayor, de Blasio confronts a hard path toward acting on that promise. He can try to spur a less-than-resolute City Council to enact a ban in defiance of polls showing the carriage horses to be widely popular. Opponents would decry the move as costing hundreds of long-standing, well-paid jobs, even if de Blasio looks to replace them.

Or the mayor could, in theory, give up and say the votes aren't there. That might mean swiftly dropping a highly publicized campaign vow and angering the often-zealous advocates to whom he made it.

Instead, political logic would suggest an attempt at some kind of compromise in the weeks or months ahead.

When reporters ask him about it, de Blasio recites some form of his essential position.

Thursday, for example, he cited "a long line of accidents" involving these pre-auto throwbacks, and called it "common sense" that "horses don't belong on the streets of New York City" where buses and traffic can spook them.

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Opponents of a ban, including Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents carriage drivers, suggest compromise is possible. "We're open, and hopeful, and waiting for an opportunity to negotiate about this," a union source said. "We want a resolution by which the drivers keep driving horses. Maybe he could meet us halfway. Maybe there are measures to make the industry even safer than it already is."

Keeping horses away from heavy traffic could be part of a deal, some activists suggest.

City Council insiders this week weren't predicting when the proposed horse ban might emerge for a vote. Last month, Newsday's Emily Ngo reported that the body as a whole was less than ready to move ahead. That doesn't seem to have changed in recent weeks.

Backlash against the proposed ban could make some council members balk. And, members might wish to make a show of the body's independence at a time when Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) emerges as a mayoral ally on most issues.

The administration suggested vintage-style cars with electric motors replace the horse trade, but de Blasio sounds open to other ideas. He once pledged to act in his first week in office, but nearly four months later, the trail toward a deal leads into a government version of Central Park's Ramble -- a tangled urban woodland.

"We understand . . . we have to be fair to the people who currently have these businesses and do this work," de Blasio said. "We want to make sure, in that which succeeds the horse carriages, the first opportunities to run those businesses, to be employed, would go to the same folks who are now a part of the horse carriage industry. But we also know there are real issues in terms of the values of those current businesses that have to be resolved."

Could de Blasio ban carriages without City Council approval? Ross Sandler, director of New York Law School's Center for New York City Law, said mayoral agencies can enforce existing laws and regulations, but "an outright ban not justified by a health or safety emergency, or authorized by existing law, would seem beyond executive powers."

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