The battle over the New York mayor’s attempt to ban the city’s carriage horses exposes the activists’ all-or-nothing philosophy. But guess who’s got a better idea? The people, that’s who.
In a move lauded by animal rights groups, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is following through on his campaign pledge to ban the Big Apple’s horse-drawn carriages that operate in Central Park.
According to The New York Times, de Blasio is introducing legislation next week to eliminate the city’s horse-drawn carriage industry, fulfilling a promise to activists who supported his electoral victory in 2013.
These are the activists who have labeled Central Park’s signature tourist attraction as “a Victorian vestige” denounced as “torture” by activists who claim the horses are mistreated and vulnerable to accidents on busy Manhattan streets when they travel to and from their stables.
“But the mayor’s efforts quickly turned into a steeplechase,” the Times reported, “with city officials stymied for months by union protests (the industry includes dozens of blue-collar jobs), celebrity ripostes (Liam Neeson made a well-publicized visit to the local stables) and legal and regulatory snags.”
Not to mention that many New Yorkers understand the hidden agenda here: Real estate developers have their sights on the stables where the carriage horses are housed, and big money and political campaigns are a highly combustible mixture.
De Blasio’s proposed bill, which prohibits the use of horse-drawn carriages city-wide, except for film sets and parades, would phase out the carriage industry by 2016, while offering out-of-work carriage drivers job-training classes and a waiver of most fees for licenses to operate so-called “green” taxicabs, which can pick up passengers outside of midtown.
However, according to the NYT, the legislation must first be passed by the City Council, where support is “uneven.” A vote is not expected until next year, and a spokesman for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, said she was still reviewing the bill, according to the newspaper. Not only that, the Central Park carriage trade, which has operated since the early 1900s, is popular with the public, to the extent that the mayor’s campaign was ridiculed on the cover of The New Yorker magazine.
Let the people speak
The bottom line here is the refrain that animal rights groups always intone: “Making these poor, defenseless horses pull carriages constitutes abuse, torture and slavery.” They always go to the extreme, and always infer that the farmers/producers/ranchers/breeders/drivers — whoever — is committing what amounts to a crime, and thus the activity must be permanently banned.
It’s always black-and-white, right-and-wrong, good-and-evil with activists. Their operational manual ought to be titled “Zero Shades of Gray.”
But let’s listen to the public, the voters, people with mixed feelings, who recognize both sides of the issue, who understand that reforming an industry shouldn’t be off the table, but that outright elimination shouldn’t be the only option.
Along with a number of commenters who responded to the NYT article with such comments such as, “Glad to see the mayor is focused on such an important issue [with] unemployment, wage inequality, healthcare, the high cost of housing,” many offered trenchant observations that trumped both the mayor’s self-serving position and the animal activists’ all-or-noting demands.
Judge for yourself:
Take, for example, Vanessa, who wrote, “I am a horse person, owner of riding horses all of my life. All of the horse people I know — people who really understand horses and what they want from life — are supporters of the carriages. The horses appear to us to be well-fed and to have an important job to do. Like dogs, horses are happier with a job to do.”
Or Nr, who wrote, “I know an equine vet who has spent time at the carriage horses' stable, and no, she is not in the employ of the Horse and Carriage Trade Association or its members. This vet told me the carriage horses have far better lives than most racehorses. And a lot of show horses as well. Horses are bred to be working animals. To be humane and progressive toward the horses, to be in favor of jobs, please support the carriage trade. From a former rider who values horses and other animals.”
Or a commenter named HKGuy, who wrote, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. I am a vegan and animal advocate, but I part ways on this issue. Unlike most New Yorkers, I grew up with these animals. I've seen them in the park and in the stables. These animals were bred to work. It's in their DNA. If they were retired, they'd be neurotic messes.”
Or Tom, who wrote, “I can understand wanting to ban the horses from being on the streets for traffic concerns; that actually makes sense. But find a creative solution that limits animal traffic to the park and maybe one or two streets and restrict the hours or establish a horse-pool lane.”
And Kevin C. had what ought to be the final word on the subject: “The horse-drawn carriages are popular, they are a romantic, lovely, old-fashioned sight. Mayor de Blasio, instead of eliminating this beloved fixture of NYC tradition, why not simply fix what is purported to be wrong?”
Indeed, why not?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.