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NYC horse carriage foes step up lobbying

A carriage horse feeds on a bucket of

A carriage horse feeds on a bucket of oats at the southern tip of Central Park, Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Manhattan. Credit: Louis Lanzano

Advocates of a proposed ban on Central Park's horse-drawn carriages Thursday turned up the pressure on lawmakers, loudly cheering City Council members who support their cause and pressing fliers into the hands of the undecided.

About two dozen animal rights activists rallied in their largest showing at City Hall since Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month said a ban is in his new series of priorities. Carriage drivers also were present to defend their industry, leading to heated exchanges between members of each group.

De Blasio in his first week in office vowed a ban, but seven months later, the City Council has yet to introduce a bill. The mayor said July 8 that the ban would go through a legislative process. He added a week later, "I stay true to what I told the people I would achieve, and we're going to move forward."

A spokesman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who also supports a ban, Thursday said no time frame has yet been set on a bill.

Allie Feldman of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS, who wore shirts that read, "horses are sooo last century," said she is patient with the process. "It takes time to craft a bill. . . . It takes time to get the council members' feedback," she said, adding she expects action in the next few months. "We're fairly confident that this is going to pass pretty easily."

Carriage drivers, members of their Teamsters union and other backers argued the council did not have the votes or they would have passed ban legislation already. Some said the pro-ban activists' rally showed a measure of desperation.

"They've got to try to pull out all the stops," said Teamsters member Michael Gatto.

Several council members seemed not to have changed their stances from March, when a Newsday tally found a majority either oppose a ban or are undecided.

"Still there," Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) said of being undecided. "We're spending a lot of time trying to make sure that we're hearing from both sides." He said community meetings have shown the ban is not a priority for his constituents.

Animal-rights activists maintain that the carriage horse industry is an inhumane one. Carriage drivers and their supporters say more than 300 jobs are at stake and the industry is a centuries-old tradition.

A Quinnipiac University poll in June found 66 percent of city voters opposed a ban.

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