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A horse and carriage parked on Central Park South, in New York City.

Unstable future for New York horse and carriage drivers

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A horse and carriage parked on Central Park South, in New York City.

It's safe to say that Bill de Blasio’s landslide win in the New York City mayoral election was no thanks to Central Park horse and carriage drivers.

The mayor-elect didn’t exactly win over these men and women, many of who hail from Ireland, when he promised during his campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages “within the first week on the job.”

Carriage drivers have faced backlash from animal rights groups for quite some time but have always had Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on their side. With de Blasio taking office on January 1, the harsh reality is that their more than 150-year-old successful business may soon be a nostalgic memory.

De Blasio built his campaign around promising to do what is fair and carriage drivers hope that he will at least hold fast to that and let them prove themselves and their business.

In 2007, while a member of the New York City Council, de Blasio was given the opportunity to co-sponsor legislation which sought to ban horse-carriage rides. He declined.

Fast-forward six years to a costly mayoral campaign. One of de Blasio’s biggest benefactors was New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets or NYCLASS, a non-profit animal welfare and advocacy organization whose goal is “to make New York City a more humane city, and to elect candidates who represent all New Yorkers, two legged and four legged.”

“It makes you wonder what his motives are,” Conor McHugh, a carriage driver and manager of Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street, told the Irish Voice.

A native of Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim, McHugh has been a Central Park carriage driver for 27 years. “As somebody who is going to be mayor, I find it strange that he would change his mind without first speaking with some of us, visiting one of our stables, or at least doing some research,” he said.

During his tenure, Bloomberg signed legislation ensuring that the horses are well taken care of in the city in which they are part of an iconic New York experience for locals and tourists alike.

Every horse must be licensed, cannot work more than nine hours a day, must spend five weeks a year on a farm in the country and must pass bi-annual physicals by a veterinarian, among many other strict guidelines.

“Activists have been throwing around accusations of abuse for years but have never been able to prove anything,” said McHugh.

With a stable that has been open for 10 years and inspected regularly by the ASPCA and the Department of Health with not so much as a ticket, McHugh would like to expect a visit from a “fair” mayor before he pulls the plug on the horse and carriage trade.

As for the countless Irish accents that can be heard all year round, lined up along Central Park South between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, McHugh explains that the carriage business has traditionally been an Irish one through the years.

“I think a lot of Irish, particularly those who came to New York during the influx in the 1980s and early ‘90s, were reared on farms. When they saw that they could be involved with horses, something they were familiar with, they gravitated towards that,” he said.

“Also, a lot of immigrants, including Irish, tend to get into a business which the people who came before them did, whether it be construction, bar work, or carriage driving.”  Again, it tended to be a case of familiarity.

McHugh hopes that de Blasio will take note of such familiarity and familiarize himself with this “issue” — both sides of it.

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