The 20-plus marchers representing the industry, which New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to eliminate, were led by Samson, a horse owned by Sunnyside driver Paul McDaid.
Stephen Malone, a spokesperson for the drivers and a native of Sunnyside, said the falling snow didn’t dampen the spirits of the participants and spectators who couldn’t get enough of Samson.
“He was the hit of the show,” said Malone, whose father was a native of Co. Louth and also a carriage driver.
“The parade and the reception we received was nothing short of phenomenal. We had lots of marchers with us but some had to travel back to where they came from early because of the weather.”
The drivers never made contact with de Blasio at the event, nor did they set out intending to.
“He was late to the parade so we never saw him at all,” said Malone.
Other politicians in attendance were happy to greet the drivers and Samson, among them the local New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who remains undecided as to whether he will support a pending council bill backed by the de Blasio administration to ban the horse and carriage industry from Central Park next year.
The lead sponsor of the bill, Council Member Daniel Dromm, was also at the parade, but he avoided any encounters with the horse and carriage marchers, Malone said.
“Our participation in the parade wasn’t about the mayor,” said Malone. “What we really wanted to do was go back to where we came from and thank everyone for the support we’ve received. It was a thrill personally for me to march by 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue where I grew up.”
The bill to ban the horses was introduced last December and has yet to be scheduled for a vote. It is strongly backed by de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, but it is unclear if they will win the necessary majority support.
De Blasio pledged last year that he would visit one of the stables on the West Side to see how the horses are cared for, but that he would remain firm in his belief that the carriage industry should be eliminated.
To date, the mayor’s office has yet to contact any of the drivers to arrange a meeting, Malone said.