Animal rights advocates rallied Thursday outside City Hall demanding that the City Council vote on a bill aimed at protecting the famed carriage horses of Central Park.
With only two City Council meetings left before year end, protesters from New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets called on Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to schedule a vote.
The bill would restrict carriage rides to Central Park and no longer allow them in Times Square. It would also increase the size of stable stalls, limit the maximum driver’s shift to 8 hours (down from 12 currently) and delegate oversight to a centralized municipal agency.
The group of about 40 protesters chanted, “Give us the vote! No excuse, for horse abuse!,” while holding posters with images of Mark-Viverito. Although the group, known as NYCLASS, contends she is obstructing their efforts, Mark-Viverito backed legislation calling for a complete ban on horse-drawn carriages in 2011 and has continued to support regulating the carriage industry.
“We believe we have the votes we need to make this happen, and we want it to happen now,” said Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS. “We’re just asking the speaker to give us a chance and to follow through on her promise to protect carriage horses.”
Do you think it’s cruel for horses to pull carriages around Central Park? Here is some footage from a @nyclass rally protesting their working and living conditions in NYC last week. pic.twitter.com/2ptPXKKFhL
— Juan Torres-Falcon (@juanthatyouwant) November 20, 2017
The pending legislation, presented to the City Council in July, pulls back the reins on a failed 2016 bill that called for the stables currently located on the west side of Manhattan to be moved to Central Park. The New York Times reported that it would cost taxpayers $25 million to convert a park facility into the new stables. Opponents criticized the use of public property to support the needs of a private industry.
The Teamsters Local 553, which represents the carriage drivers, lobbied against the bill, according to Chris Coffey, a spokesperson for NYCLASS. The Teamsters did not respond to a request for comment.
With little support last year from council members, advocates of more protections for the horses mapped out a new strategy. “We took a year to regroup and changed the way we educate voters and council members about the horses and our cause,” said Coffey. “We made changes to the legislation after talking to small businesses, restaurants and the community to propose something more doable on both sides.”
The organization has been fighting for increased protections for carriage horses since 2013, when it called for a total ban on horse-drawn carriages and proposed that electric carriages take their stead. The campaign was bolstered when Bill de Blasio, then a mayoral candidate, promised to ban carriage horses on “day one” of his term. NYCLASS helped fund the successful “Anybody but Quinn” campaign that attacked Christine Quinn, de Blasio’s opponent in the primary. De Blasio affirmed his support of the new bill this summer at a press conference.
The organization has tried to raise public awareness and support through rallies and by sharing images of exhausted horses on social media.
What would you say to someone to dissuade them from taking a horse carriage ride? pic.twitter.com/iIw2MOoZUB
— NYCLASS (@nyclass) January 19, 2017
Supporters of the carriage industry are upset that the contents of the bill have not been released to public. “It’s a secret bill,” said Craig Sheldon, a lawyer and advocate for the rights of carriage drivers. “They won’t even share what it’s in the bill, and this is just their way of putting the industry out of business.”
Birnkrant of NYCLASS countered that “our goals are very clear and they always have been. We want to protect these animals that are suffering,” she said. “We just want to put measures in place, and I know we have the votes to do so–if we could just get the city council to vote.”
Mark-Viverito did not respond to a request for comment from TheInk.nyc, but on Thursday afternoon she told the Daily News that the bill would not come up for a vote in the remaining two council meetings this year.