De Blasio's horse-drawn carriage ban faces hurdles

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

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Mayor Bill de Blasio's vow to ban Central Park horse-drawn carriages is no sure thing as City Council members await a credible plan to create new jobs for the 300-plus drivers.

De Blasio had pledged to act in his first week in office, saying the horses face inhumane working conditions. Now in Week 12, no bill has been introduced and no timetable set. Many lawmakers say they're undecided.

A Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday found that, by 64 percent to 24 percent, voters oppose de Blasio's plan.

"Oftentimes, the rhetoric of a campaign trail crashes on the rocks of reality once it's time to implement those ideas," said Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), who opposes a ban, citing concern for the drivers' livelihoods.

"The votes aren't there," said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens), who is undecided.

Newsday spoke with 42 council members or their representatives and found that eight oppose the ban, 15 support it and 19 are undecided, saying they want to hear from all sides. The other nine of the 51 members did not respond to inquiries.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

A key question for many of those opposed and undecided is whether the idea backed by carriage foes and de Blasio to create new jobs for horse drivers -- operating electric-powered vintage cars -- can work.

Some council members who co-sponsored or supported previous ban legislation, including Peter Koo (D-Queens) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), said they're now on the fence and want reassurance that the drivers will have new work before committing to a bill this year.

De Blasio pledged early in his campaign to scrap carriages "the first week on the job."

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, at a Crain's New York Business forum last week, said the administration is committed to a ban, but there's "a lot of work to be done on the 'how.' "

De Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, celebrities including singer Pink and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS, say it is cruel to keep horses on city streets. NYCLASS paid $450,000 for a prototype electric car set to be ready in June and said retired horses would find homes on farms.

The AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and actor Liam Neeson say the horses are well-treated, jobs and tradition are at stake, and electric cars won't attract enough tourism dollars.

De Blasio benefited last year when NYCLASS funded negative ads targeting his Democratic primary foe Christine Quinn.

Mark-Viverito co-sponsored a 2010 bill to ban carriages. Asked about the delay on legislation, her spokesman said Monday that turnover in the council -- 21 new members joined this year -- means more time is needed to familiarize potential allies with the issue.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"It's just a matter of time," said pro-ban Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens). "It's way too dangerous for horses to be in New York City traffic . . . I've seen photos and videos of horses hit by cars. It's heart-wrenching."

Stephen Malone, a second-generation carriage operator and spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association, said three horses have died in traffic over the course of three decades. Horses are injured, but activists have "utopian standards," he said.

Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, where previous ban legislation originated, said it may be months before a bill is introduced and "members are trying to come to a consensus." He has not taken a position.

"My concern is the economic aspect of it, the loss of jobs and the loss of revenue for the city," he said, adding that he plans to visit the stables to see how the horses are treated.

Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) said he favors a ban but wants the smoothest possible transition to electric cars from carriages. "If it takes a little more time to do it right, we're OK with that," he said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

For the Quinnipiac poll, 1,234 city voters were surveyed March 12-17. Margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

You also may be interested in: