Letter from New York. The most difficult political decisions are not always those on the most essential issues. This is the lesson that Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York, is now learning the hard way. His campaign promises to remove the carriages in Central Park, under pressure from animal rights groups, was not a priori the most difficult to hold. But what began as a peaceful walk is veering to the course full of obstacles.
Hitches parked on 59th Street, waiting for tourists in romance, in the south of Central Park, had become a part of the New York landscape. But the days of this attraction which is more than a century old, immortalized in the series Sex and the City, Seinfeld, seem numbered. The text prohibiting the famous carriages will be presented this week at the City Council. “We believe it is time to remove the carriages in the city and we’ll do it,” insists Bill de Blasio. It remains to find the majority to adopt a measure that 61% of New Yorkers disapprove.
Twenty accidents in two years
For several years, the militant group that fights against animal abuse, New Yorkers for Clean and Safe Livable Streets (NYClass) conducts intense lobbying to remove what it considers an intolerable relic. In two years, the association has complained about twenty accidents and believes that horses do not belong in one of the most congested cities in the world. It may be noted in passing that no one lifts finger about the condition of the horses ridden by the New York police, who patrol Times Square.
The municipal campaign NYClass did not find sufficiently sympathetic ears. But in the fall of 2013, Bill de Blasio did not hesitate to ride this workhorse to get elected. It is still unclear what role this promised in his victory. What is very concrete, however, is the amount spent by NYClass during the campaign to support the future mayor and fund ads to discredit his main opponent, Christine Quinn. Nearly $1.3 million (€1 million) was spent there.
President of the City Council under the term of office of Michael Bloomberg, Christine Quinn had the misfortune to try to find a compromise in 2010 strictly regulating the exploitation of carriages without question an activity which is supported by nearly 300 people, including 170 coachmen. A half-measure deemed insufficient by animal advocates who asked Bill de Blasio to commit to a more radical solution in exchange for electoral support.
Since the formation of this coupling between the mayor and NYClass, questions and ironies multiply. The New Yorker in April devoted to this matter its front page illustration, where we see a man painfully pulling a carriage in which horses are smoking cigars and taking pictures. The tabloid The Daily News has also launched an anti-Blasio crusade under the banner: “Save our horses!” Seriously, a federal investigation is underway on the financing of the campaign by NYClass.
“A solution to a problem that does not exist”
Behind this association, which also fights for mandating sprinklers in pet stores or ban foie gras in New York, hides a real estate mogul, Steve Nislick, owner of numerous car parks in the city. The drivers say he wants to get in on the four stables of the West Side of Manhattan, which houses their horses. Steve Nislick is very displeased with this fact.
The bill submitted to council aims not to renew the licenses of the drivers after they expire in 2016. The horses will be replaced by electric cars of vintage bodywork. The council proposes to provide coachmen trained to lead them. “This is the right solution that benefits all New Yorkers by creating jobs while ending a dangerous and inhumane activity,” says Allie Feldman, director of NYClass.
The fact that in this case, the mayor, hard left, is not taking advantage of the employees makes unions grind teeth, which were, however, too, strong supporters for his election. “From the beginning, the proposal to ban horse-drawn carriages is an aberrant solution that addresses a problem that does not exist,” plagues Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council. He promised to convince one by one the councilors to abandon the project, before a vote which is not expected before six months.