The century and a half-long practice of horse-drawn carriage rides through New York City’s Central Park may soon be put out to pasture.
At a press conference held on Monday to announce Carmen Farina as his schools chancellor, the city’s new mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to follow through on his campaign promise to ban horse-drawn carriages.
In response to an off-topic question on the matter, the incoming mayor told reporters “It’s over...We are going to get rid of the horse carriages. Period.
"We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make [them] no longer a part of the landscape in New York City. They are not humane. They are not appropriate to the year 2014," he added, according to NBC New York.
De Blasio’s comment elicited strong reactions from both sides of the ongoing debate. Animal rights activists believe that the practice is inhumane and archaic, while carriage drivers argue that they represent a small but vital element of the New York tourism industry, and that the regulations and ASPCA inspections in place ensure the carriage horses are happy and well cared for.
Allie Feldman, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NCLASS) - a leading group in favor of the ban and prominent supporter of the de Blasio campaign - told the International Business Times that de Blasio’s promise marked “a turning of the tide for New York.
“We’ve had a mayor for the last 12 years who hasn’t really cared about animals. Now we’re getting a mayor who not only cares about making New York more equal for all of us humans, but he’s also interested in making it a more humane place for all of our four-legged residents as well.”
Irish-born Stephen Malone, president of the Horse and Carriage Association and a 26-year veteran of the business commented to an NBC reporter that he and his fellow drivers would not be giving up their profession and livelihood without a fight.
"We look forward to having a long battle,” he said.
Malone, with whom the Irish Voice spent a day in 2012, learned the trade from his father, who immigrated to New York from Co. Louth in 1964. A great number of Malone’s fellow carriage owners who line Central Park South each day are also immigrants.
Many are incredulous at the thought that their means of supporting themselves and their families could be done away with so cavalierly. One of the alternatives de Blasio has expressed support for would see the horses and carriages replaced with antique-style electric cars.
In the event that the ban is effected, the NCLASS has plans to partner with the ASPCA in finding new homes for the horses, though this would potentially be complicated by the fact that a number of the horses are owned by their drivers.
What remains to be seen is just how “quickly and aggressively” the De Blasio administration will act. In order for the new mayor to sign the ban into law, the New York City Council must first pass long-stalled legislation on the matter - a move the carriage owners are gearing up to oppose.