January 20, 2016
By Erin Durkin and Jennifer Fermino
Even NYCLASS isn’t happy with the plan Mayor de Blasio is touting to curb the city’s horse carriage industry.
NYCLASS, which donated roughly $1 million to help elect de Blasio after he promised to kill the industry, said the City Council bill that de Blasio is pushing doesn’t do enough to protect horses from what it claims are inhumane conditions.
“The legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect the horses from working in extreme temperatures, and doesn’t protect horses from working into old age of 26,” NYCLASS said in a statement, adding that horses should be retired after 20.
“We will settle for nothing less for the horses,” the group said.
It’s the latest sign of problems for what de Blasio, the City Council, and the union repping the drivers had trumpeted as an “agreement in concept” on the future of the industry.
Drivers and stable owners held a rally earlier Tuesday panning key parts of the plan to move their business inside Central Park, with most saying they won’t get on board until the stables they are promised are complete.
Some members of the industry said they won’t back the mayor’s plan at all. “Why should we trust de Blasio on this?” said driver Ian McKeever. “He’s been against us from day one.”
McKeever said he “absolutely” loved the idea of moving the horses into Central Park and took pains to thank the union, saying the drivers wouldn’t have come this far without them.
But he said he won’t back downsizing the industry until the stables are complete — which won’t happen until October 2018 under the plan.
"This is all I know. I'm a horse carriage driver," he said during the rally at a horse stable on W. 38th St.
But the City Council bill released on Tuesday that outlines the plan says the city will begin reducing the number of licenses to 110 by the end of this year.
That number will be further whittled down to 95 when the stables finally do open, with a total of 75 horses allowed to work at any given time.
“We love the idea, but we don’t trust it’s going to happen until it happens,” said McKeever.
The Council will hold its first hearing on the bill Friday at 10 a.m.
It would give the industry a dilapidated city building on the 85th St. transverse to use as a stable, which could cost as much as $25 million to renovate.
The drivers will operate as a concession and pay the city $1 a year, said a source familiar with the plan.
“I’ve never heard of a situation where the city built something that was for a private business,” said Tupper Thomas, of New Yorkers for Parks.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who crafted the plan with the mayor, shot back at critics who questioned it.
“At the end of the day, the city owns the park,” she said. “And the city is making a decision to invest in this facility.”
The bill will also forbid pedicab drivers — who often feud with horse carriage drivers over customers — from operating below 85th St.
About 50 pedicab drivers protested the plan outside City Hall Tuesday, saying it’ll destroy their business.
Some animal rights groups, who supported de Blasio’s initial plans to outright ban the industry, joined them.
“It’s a sellout plan,” said Edita Birnkrat of the Friends of Animals.
The plan could also bring more than a few legal headaches for the mayor.
Pitbull lawyers Ron Kuby and Norman Seigel — who have been advising the drivers — said legal action is possible if they feel the city doesn't respect their rights.
"I've always been a practitioner of the ancient Jewish art of I sue," said Kuby.
At one point, a horse named Spartacus who was brought down for the rally appeared spooked and ready to bolt. The horse handler took him upstairs in the stable to his stall.
"That horse is so upset about what the mayor’s done that he doesn't want to be here," said Kuby.