Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bill de Blasio Call on City To Retire Carriage Horses

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Around fifty people gathered on the steps of City Hall this afternoon to demand the City Council test out a prototype electric car that they hope can replace horse-drawn carriages. That proposal, Intro. 86A, is sponsored in the City Council by Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.

New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets(NYCLASS) -- joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Mark-Viverito, and animal welfare advocates -- lead the rally, calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to support the pilot program.

The vintage-replica vehicle initiative would not cost the city any money, the group says, as it would be funded entirely by NYCLASS donations.

NYCLASS also delivered a petition to the Council -- signed by 85,000 New Yorkers -- supporting the replacement of horse-drawn carriages with these cars.

Carly Marie Knudson, NYCLASS Executive Director, started the event by citing statistics about horses' welfare as all the more reason to carry out the 86A program.

Knudson said that 1/3 of the city's some 200 horses are cycled out yearly, with as many as 70 of 200 disappearing altogether during this last cycling. It's clear, however, that some wind up on the auction block, where they get sold for slaughter -- for human consumption.

Lending his support to the movement, de Blasio said: "Ten accidents in 10 months -- doesn't that say enough?"

The public advocate than directed criticism toward the mayor, calling Bloomberg "deaf" on this issue.

"He acts like we don't exist," he said.

"In one of his wonderful Michael Bloomberg quotes, he said, 'it would kill the tourism industry'" because people don't come to New York for Broadway, restaurants, or the Statue of Liberty, de Blasio said sarcastically.

He then turned his attention toward Quinn, saying that she had to act since the executive branch of the City's government had refused.

Asked whether she had any thoughts on Bloomberg or Quinn's opposition, Mark-Viverito told the Voice that she couldn't speak on their behalf.

"We knew it was going to be an uphill battle," just like with any major change, she said.

Asked the same question, de Blasio called the Mayor's reaction "knee-jerk, saying: "With Bloomberg, it is his lack of willingness to investigate the issue."

Regarding Quinn, who along with de Blasio is a potential mayoral candidate, he said hesitance might be related to a "union issue" as the carriage drivers, who are organized, tend to back Quinn.

Under the pilot program, one test car -- at a cost of $400,000, funded fully by NYCLASS -- would be rolled out at first, and would operate alongside the carriages.

If successful, the rest of the 68-vehicle fleet would cost $175,000 per car, which would also be funded by donations. Current carriage drivers would have first crack at operating these vehicles, which would be built in New York City.

Bloomberg rejected these demands.

"The horses are extremely well taken care of and we support the industry in New York City," Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary for the mayor, said to the Voice.

We also reached out to Quinn's office to see what the speaker had to say. We'll update if we hear back.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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