Frustrated New York City Council members bristled Friday at a deal to dramatically reduce the number of carriage horses in New York City and restrict the animals to Central Park.
Aides to Mayor Bill de Blasio could not answer questions such as the cost or exact location of a stable to be built at taxpayer expense on public parkland, how many carriage drivers would lose their jobs or whether green space would be sacrificed for construction.
“I think what you’re asking us to buy,” said councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Queens), “is an empty bag, with a hole in it.”
Mindy Tarlow, director of the mayor’s operations office, defended the plan. De Blasio has said city streets are unsafe for horses.
“We had to look at balancing all the uses and users of the park to make sure that we have the most balanced working environment for everyone,” Tarlow said.
Given the backing of the mayor and City Council speaker, it appears there are enough votes to pass the legislation. The measure would cut the number of horses to 75 from 220, almost entirely bar them from city streets and relocate their stables from the Manhattan’s West Side to Central Park.
No vote has been scheduled.
De Blasio, who promised during the mayoral campaign to banish the horses “on day-one,” has struggled to negotiate a compromise between animal-rights activists, who contributed thousands of dollars to knock off a key foe of his in the 2013 mayoral race, and the powerful Teamsters union, which represents drivers.
Carriage-horse drivers, some clad in their old-world uniforms, packed stage left of the City Council chamber. On the opposite side were animal-rights activists, wearing “I ♥ ANIMALS” pins. Sergeants-at-arms frequently scolded the audience to stop applauding or face ejection.
In the balcony were pedicab drivers, who would be prevented under the deal from operating in the southern end of the park, below the 85th Street Transverse, beginning June 1.
Tarlow acknowledged that pedicabs were excluded from the negotiating table.
“I think they were collateral damages in some ways here, and I think that’s unfair,” said Council member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens).
Tarlow, who said she wants the current legislation passed, insisted the pedicab drivers were getting a say. “This is how the process begins,” she said.