New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer spoke for many of his colleagues at a council hearing on the Central Park horse carriage industry on Friday when he said members of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration had done a “piss poor” job of explaining why the industry needs to be slashed and the horses stabled in Central Park at public expense.
“I am deeply disappointed with the administration’s presentation,” said Van Bramer at a packed Friday morning hearing on City Council Bill 573-A, which seeks to reduce the number of licensed horses from 180 to 110 by the end of this year, with all horses and carriages confined to Central Park by June 1. The city is proposing to build a new stable by 2018 which would accommodate only 75 horses.
The chief administration spokesperson for the plan, director of operations Mindy Tarlow, was unable to give concrete answers to many of the questions that council members asked about job losses in the industry, the cost of the new stable or compensation plans for displaced workers, which the Teamsters union estimates will be up to 50.
“I am more angry than ever,” said Queens Democrat Van Bramer, who was previously undecided on the issue of whether to ban the horses and carriages from Central Park altogether, a signature plan of de Blasio’s until he abandoned it earlier this year due to lack of City Council support.
“It is wrong to ask members to take a vote like this…with so many unanswered questions.”
"What is the urgency here today?" Councilman Barry Grodenchik asked. "You're asking us to partially dismantle an industry that predates the Civil War."
Also testifying on Friday was Demos Demopoulos from the Teamsters union representing the industry. Demopoulos said that while the drivers had agreed “in principle” to relocate inside Central Park, negotiations were ongoing with the administration to minimize job losses.
“Our preference, of course, would have been to be left alone,” said industry spokesperson and carriage driver Stephen Malone, who also spoke about his immigrant father from Co. Louth who drove a carriage when he came to New York.
“But if the industry must change, better that the ban is off the table and the legislation being considered today preserves this industry long into the future.”
Conor McHugh, a driver from Co. Leitrim, testified that the drivers have done “nothing wrong. Our horses are in good hands and in good shape.”
He also testified about the economic impact the City Council bill in its present form would have. McHugh is a co-owner of the Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street. “The idea that my stable will be reduced by 39 horses in a building that’s mortgaged just like any other building in this city, and that I somehow am going to be able to keep that stable open for an indefinite period of time while we wait for the Central Park stables to open is just ludicrous,” he said.
Advocates for the pedicab industry also provided testimony about how the business would be decimated because of the proposed ban on pedicabs in Central Park below 85th Street, which would become the exclusive domain of the horse and carriages.
A final vote on the bill has yet to be scheduled.