Last week the mayor announced a plan to reduce the number of horse carriages from the current level of 230 by two-thirds. The plan also calls for the horses to be stabled in Central Park instead of where they currently reside on the far West Side of Manhattan, so they can avoid traffic on city streets.
De Blasio heavily courted the anti-horse carriage lobby during his run for mayor in 2013, and promised to eliminate the traditionally Irish industry on “day one” of his mayoralty. The lobby, led by main group NYCLASS, donated heavily to de Blasio’s campaign, and has consistently called on the mayor to make good on his promise.
Eliminating the much-loved horse and carriage trade, however, has proven politically thorny and unpopular with the public. A bill to quash the horses and offer jobless carriage drivers a license to operate green taxis outside of Manhattan was introduced in the City Council last December but was never acted on because a majority of members have not signaled support.
De Blasio’s new tactic has been blasted by the carriage drivers, who say they won’t accept any reduction in their numbers.
“It’s a crazy plan,” McKeever added, “and it’s one we will not support. The mayor felt he had a mandate to get rid of us after he got elected, but he found out that it’s us who actually has the mandate from the people of New York who want us to stay.”
Opinion polls show strong public support for the horse carriage industry. A Quinnipiac University poll last December found that 67 percent of those surveyed favored keeping the horses in Central Park.
De Blasio seemed to row back on his plan to eliminate the horses during an interview last summer when he urged supporters of the ban to lobby City Council members instead of City Hall.
“What I would say to every advocate is, you already have my vote; go get the votes in the City Council,” the mayor said in August. “That’s where people should put their energy.”
De Blasio’s newest plan to shrink the horse and carriage trade would require City Council approval. Housing the animals in Central Park would also require agreement with the Central Park Conservancy which manages the space.
McKeever, a native of Co. Meath, says de Blasio has never made good on a previous promise to visit the stables where the horses are cared for. “He’s been invited many, many times and has never bothered,” he added.
The drivers are members of Teamsters Joint Council 16. Union president George Miranda issued a statement which said, “New Yorkers have made it clear that they stand behind the carriage drivers and want this iconic institution to stay. We have always been open to compromise, but the Teamsters would accept nothing short of preserving the horse carriage industry and the livelihoods of our members."
Here, in two parts, is a short film IrishCentral made on the horse and carriages in Central Park: