Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to ban the 68 horse and carriages from Central Park where they have been carrying paying passengers since 1858. He is doing this at the behest of New York Class (NY CLASS), founded by developer Steve Nislick, former CEO of Edison Properties. Edison once obtained former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s support to tear down the High Line. He almost succeeded in destroying the most popular park in NYC. Nislick left Edison to head NYCLASS in August, 2012, as the attacks began on favored mayoral candidate Christine Quinn. According to Crain’s New York Business, “NYCLASS gave an above-the-legal-limit six-figure donation to defeat Ms. Quinn. . . Mr. de Blasio who had also taken direct donations from NYCLASS founder Steve Nislick and close associates, promised to ban the horse carriage industry in Central Park on his first day as mayor.”
NYCLASS, which reported taking in $554,000 in total donations, also gave $225,000 to another anti-Quinn front group, NYC is Not for Sale, a coalition including “animal rights groups.” It was fined $7,050 by the NYC Campaign Finance Board for failing to report $70,000 in its $1.1 million campaign to defeat Quinn in the primaries. Obviously, this campaign to ban horses from Central Park adopted by de Blasio, had some heavy financing. The carriage horses are housed in four stables on the far West Side of Manhattan. Writing in Horseback Magazine, one writer saw this “as a seedy attempt to secure valuable Manhattan real estate under the guise of animal welfare.” In a January 6 blog, Robert Stacy McCain stated, “An anti-carriage pamphlet Nislick circulated in 2008 made this interesting observation,’Currently, the stables consist of 64,000 square feet of valuable real estate that could accommodate up to 150,000 square feet of development.’”
Now, let’s look at the Mayor’s enemies, those 68 horses and their driver/owners who devote their lives and livelihood to them. Tommy Hughes has been driving for 27 years. He grew up on his family farm in Ireland where he began riding his father’s horses as a teenager. “We have devoted our lives to horses. I would not do this if I was not a horse person. We bond, man and animal.”Three happy riders from Boston dismounted a carriage one sunny day in mid-March at the edge of the park. Asked what they thought of the Mayor’s proposed ban, they responded, “It’s a very bad idea. This is what makes New York City so attractive to us during our 5-day visit. We found this ride uniquely charming, really relaxing, which attracts tourists.”Joe Cirnigliaro started driving in 1974. “My dad was a driver before me. Yes, three horses have been killed by automobiles over 30 years. Last year alone, 173 pedestrians have been killed by automobiles. Should pedestrians be banned from the streets? Why is the victim blamed?”
Ian McIver, who has been driving for 28 years, added, “I have been with horses all my life. I don’t know any other life.” These working horses are well cared for in stables with room to lie down. They do not work when the temperature is below 20 or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. They enjoy annual 5-week vacations on the Pennsylvania Amish farms from where they originated. They are far better off than joining the 100,000 horses slaughtered every year in the US for horse meat. The carriages themselves are elegant glossy black or white Swarzts or Canadian style with soft velvety cushioned scarlet seats. They are true works of functional art which add much to the allure of the city.
Are improvements possible? Yes. Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said that safe passage from the stables to the park should be provided. He suggested curbside lanes be restricted during the early morning and late evening hours to horses only, as they are now in many places for bicycles or buses. A concession fee may be necessary to cover the costs of repairing the damage done to the park drives from the steel clad horses’ hooves. Shade trees along the edge of the sidewalks are important to cool the horses and to make the park more park-like. Benepe, who is now vice-president of the Trust for Public Land, added, “These horses are a living connection to our past. They have operated in Central Park for over 150 years, and the principal argument for ending this tradition is “inhumane treatment” has not been proven anywhere. If it is “inhumane” for them to breath in auto exhaust during their brief commutes to and from the park, is it also inhumane to allow cyclists, bike messengers, pushcart vendors, traffic agents, police officers, and others who are out on the streets all day to breathe the same air?”
Borough President Gale Brewer agrees with the former commissioner that more cars should not be brought into Central Park as the Mayor proposes. In fact, Ms. Brewer wants all cars to be banned from the park drives. In the end, the Mayor should get off his high horse and show some flexibility to talk to those affected, riders and drivers, and those of us who use and love the park. He should display some compassion and caring for what makes the city beautiful. We have long established traditions which should be honored and protected.