Bill de Blasio's Pledge to Abolish Horse-Drawn Carriages is Running Away From Him

Categories: Longform

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Jesse Dittmar
Carriage driver Christina Hansen, left, and carriage owner and driver Stephen Malone pose with Malone's horse Tyson, and another horse, Wee Red, at the Clinton Park stables.
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Jesse Dittmar
The smell of the Clinton Park Stables arrives before the sight of them, a mixture of straw and manure and horse sweat. It rises from the pavement of 52nd Street, just east of the Hudson River, across from De Witt Clinton Park, from which the stables take their name. The smell makes you swivel your head around, searching for a phantom pony.

On a recent evening, though, the street is deserted. Most of New York's famed carriage horses are winding down their day, heading into stalls at four stables dotted across midtown. Inside Clinton Park, as the equine residents settle down to sleep, the humans are, as usual, preparing for war.

"Horses for centuries have been living in stalls, except when they're working," Christina Hansen says. She stands in the stable's narrow, no-frills office, which looks like a taxi dispatcher's workspace: a battered red bench, a time clock resting on a white ledge. Outside the door, a worker sprays down a white carriage and rolls it into place for the night. Another guides a placid draft horse up a long ramp to its second-floor stall.

Hansen is in her mid-thirties, in jeans, rimless glasses, and the jaunty feather-decorated top hat all carriage drivers wear. She's coming off a day's work and sounds a little weary.

"Our horses are helpful, fit, happy, bright-eyed, and a good weight," she says. "They're not showing any stable vices" — behavioral issues horses can develop when they're confined, isolated, or bored.

"You have to say that this works great," Hansen adds.

She's referring to the carriage industry as a whole: Besides her part-time work as a driver, she's a spokeswoman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York, the industry trade group fighting to keep the horses in Central Park.

Soon Hansen is joined by Stephen Malone, a fellow top-hatted driver and second-generation carriage owner. Hulking and taciturn, he punches at a cell phone that looks like a toy in his hands, glancing up occasionally to interject. "They're trying to steal these horses from our grasp," he says glumly.

Malone's Irish-immigrant father began driving a carriage in 1964. The younger Malone has been in the business for more than a quarter-century, and now owns several horses.

Most of his time in "the box" — carriagespeak for the driver's seat — has been quiet, but in the past year he has gotten sick of the stream of reporters trooping through the stables, filming the hack line at Central Park where drivers wait to pick up their fares, putting microphones in his face and asking how he feels. The other day, yet another TV station called to request more B-roll of the hack line.

"B-roll, B-roll," Malone groused recently to Hansen. "The only roll I wanna hear about anymore is a chicken roll."

Hansen heads to the second floor, where 78 of the city's 220 carriage horses spend their nights. It's as hushed as a library. "They're quiet because they're happy," she says, pausing at the stall occupied by a draft horse named Rosie. Nearly all of New York's carriage horses are draft breeds, prized for their size and relative placidity, and for the centuries they've spent working for humans, pulling plows and people. Rosie stares down her nose at Hansen and flicks her tail. As soon as the driver walks away, the horse starts stomping against the walls of her stall, making an unholy racket.

"She wants treats," Hansen explains. She hands Rosie a carrot and the horse quiets down at once, regally accepting it between her massive teeth. Hansen moves on to one of Malone's two horses: Tyson, a handsome, midnight-coated fellow with a white blaze down his face. He stands on his bed of straw, regarding his waterer, which hangs over the side of his stall.

"He's a TV star," Hansen says, stroking his neck. Tyson has appeared on Law & Order and, in an irony the carriage drivers bitterly relish, on 30 Rock alongside Alec Baldwin, one of the carriage horse industry's loudest opponents.

From this vantage point, the horses falling asleep on their straw, the carriage life looks tranquil. But for years, opponents have argued that it's time for it to end. They didn't have a sympathetic ear under former mayor Michael Bloomberg or then–New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "These horses work, like you, like me," Bloomberg told Metro New York in October. "There's a few hundred people that work in this industry who support their families based on it." The demise of the trade, he warned, would mean slaughter for the horses.

Bill de Blasio, however, was elected Bloomberg's successor in part because of the powerful support of an animal-rights group, NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean Safe and Livable Streets, headed by former Edison Properties CEO Stephen Nislick). Throughout his campaign, de Blasio promised an "immediate ban" on the industry.

"One year ago, almost no one believed it was possible," NYCLASS spokeswoman Allie Feldman wrote in a message to supporters the week after de Blasio was elected in November. "We were mocked. We were ridiculed. We were written off as crazy cat ladies. But you believed in NYCLASS's strategy to elect a humane mayor and City Council, and because of you, Tuesday was the moment that started a new era for NYC — and the entire animal protection movement."

But four months into de Blasio's term, there's still no sign of a ban. Recently, the mayor announced during an online press conference that he was putting it off until sometime later this year, explaining, "I think everyone came in and looked at all the other things we had to do and we had to prioritize."

In the meantime, a savvy and relentless public-relations campaign has produced a groundswell of support for the carriages and growing skepticism in the media around NYCLASS's plan to replace them with pricey vintage-replica cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. Newspaper editorials have advocated for the horses to stay: The New York Times, Post, and Daily News, papers that historically don't agree on much of anything, have come out in favor of the industry (the News has even begun a petition drive). A January Quinnipiac poll found that 64 percent of New Yorkers oppose banning carriages.

Hansen and Malone believe the tide of battle has turned in their favor.

Malone adjusts his top hat and turns to leave for the night. "We're not going to lose," he vows. "Period."

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103 comments
Ted Rice
Ted Rice

What NYC really should do is get rid of the automobiles.

Laura Wilson
Laura Wilson

The various humane societies have taken the position that horse drawn carriages should be banned, for the good of the animals. They are in the best position to know.

Billy T Rhino
Billy T Rhino

real estate?-are the stables occupying valuable REAL ESTATE?-maybe its got nothing to do with horses.....

Rosalie Madatian
Rosalie Madatian

No, but I think they should only be used in the park, not the streets!

Jennifer Convery
Jennifer Convery

so many lies. this mayor made a deal with the devil when he took $ from real estate developers & promised them the west side stable properties. it's an incredible political scandal that has nothing to do with animal welfare. the central park horses are happy & healthy-all 5 agencies overseeing them agree. most were rescued from slaughter & if banned they will go back to slaughter. there's nothing cruel about horses who pull carriages. these drivers love & care for them. the park was designed for the horse carriages. they are a historic treasure & the only people afflicting pain on them are the incessant protesters screaming at them all day.

Jc Gonzales
Jc Gonzales

They are a NYC icon, but if the horses are being harmed in anyway, then the ban needs to take place.

Barraud Caterers Limited
Barraud Caterers Limited

YES!!! As in all the western European capitals. Why should NYC be a third world city just for the sake of "tradition" before the invention of the automobile.

Dwayne Lowe
Dwayne Lowe

No. because it's been a staple of the city for a very long time and it's a great way to see central park. also i'm sure countless guys have proposed marriage to their girlfriends while riding on them. in fat just last weekend i saw a married couple taking a ride a horse drawn carriage. This current mayor would be an idiot to shut it down. i guess he also dislikes anything that makes this city cool to Tourists who come here and wanna experience it for themselves.

Michelle Accardi
Michelle Accardi

The horses are well taken care of. What a waste of a vote if you voted for him. With all the problems going on, jobs, wages, taxes and this clown focuses on this. People should demand a recalle.

Sarai Levene
Sarai Levene

ABSOLUTELY NOT.....THE HORSES SHOULD BE HOUSED IN STABLES IN THE PARK. WE COULD BRING BACK RIDING IN THE PARKS...THE TRAILS ARE ALREADY ESTABLISHED. Fees/rentals could go to upkeep. The carriages add yet another means of safety and security throughout the park..drivers could have direct links to police, ems, etc. The "cars" tht Mayor Diblasio has suggested have absolutely NO CHARM & DEFEAT the purposeof the park as designed by Olmsted and maintained through several other organizationsand conservancies. Have some GUTS...Mayor...and respond with some creativity, originality and uniquely....afterall,..that's our city !

Anna Felkins
Anna Felkins

Just like people and pets do. Want to ban them too?

Anna Felkins
Anna Felkins

This piece is filled with falsehoods. The carriage horses are safely and humanely treated and the citizens love them. No one wants more cars! Keep the horses!

Greta von Otto
Greta von Otto

Hell no. Those horses love their job, they were bred to pull loads and are treated very well. deBlasio is a horse's A$$!!

Barraud Caterers Limited
Barraud Caterers Limited

So the horse stables would be IN Central Park - right? Otherwise they'd have to travel through all that nasty gasoline-fumes up their noses & into their lungs, buses n' big side-swiping truck traffic.

Elaine Russett Calhoun-Fox
Elaine Russett Calhoun-Fox

No, I don't think that those horses are abused or exploited. They walk calmly through the streets with out showing any signs of apprehension. I am for banning the cars, so I agree with David!

Joni Filiault
Joni Filiault

Any time we have the opportunity to stop exploiting animals for the entertainment of tourists, we should probably consider the option.

David Owen
David Owen

Fuck no! You could easily make things better and safer by banning automobiles in central Park and letting pedestrians, cyclists and horses use the space. That's kinda what it was intended for in the first place. An oasis away from the bumbling bullshit of everyday metropolitan life.

Ira Ras Negus George
Ira Ras Negus George

Leave NYC alone haven't you taken enough already? -To all those thinking it is what it is just because your here now trust me you could never ever experience what it was EVER no matter how much you try or what you do it will never be the same your living a fake repeat of the early 80's right now!!! -LMAO!

Geoffrey Lord Geiger
Geoffrey Lord Geiger

He also needs to crack down on the police horses and the bicycle riding delivery people that disregard traffic laws.

Barry Chute
Barry Chute

No. Put it on a NYC ballot. Let them decide. 64% want to keep it.

OyVey111
OyVey111

Really? Is that the argument you've been reduced to? You poor thing. Empathy seems as though it's foreign to you. Tell you what...should the rescued dogs in my family ever decide to show anything but love, affection, and appreciation for the quality of life that they've been given, I'll be sure to think of you and feel remorse for thinking you're a bit of a moron.

ullenkev
ullenkev

So it's Ok for people to live boring unfulfilled lives sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours a day but it's not Ok for a horse to be out in fresh air and sunlight ?

Seriously WTF ?!!

bill.lewis
bill.lewis

I didnt know horse meat was illegal. I remember eating it in the mid seventies when there was some kind of beef shortage. I bought the ground horsemeat at a buttcher shop in Trenton NJ. They were touting how healthy it was at that time.

yonjuro
yonjuro

I think we just elected Frau Blucher (N-e-I-g--h)!

Mitch Klein
Mitch Klein

Tough issue... Im torn down the middle on this one

rmunguia65
rmunguia65

Ban this cruel industry enough with the exploration of these animals find. Another livelihood 

flatbushsaddle
flatbushsaddle

@OyVey111  Try this out for empathy: say a bunch of neighbors decided they didn't like the look of your house, or the type of leash you used and the doggie coats your rescued dogs wore in winter and started rumors about how badly you treated your rescued dogs, then got city council to pass a law against rescued dogs being held by people with not so nice houses. And your dogs were taken away and your job was banned along with for good measure, and if you knew what was good for you you would take the job punching a cash register with doogie pictures on it rather than taking care of and working with your real actual dogs that had become a part of your family.  I mean that would be OK right? it would be for the good of the dogs right?

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