A Manhattan horse stable opened its doors to City Council members Sunday, inviting them to view conditions firsthand and meet drivers whose livelihoods are at stake before voting on whether to ban horse-drawn carriages.
The fight over the industry's fate has pitted Mayor Bill de Blasio, animal-rights activists and others who say it is dangerous for horses on city streets against the drivers and their labor union, actor Liam Neeson and those who say more than 300 people would be out of work and that carriage rides are a part of the city's fabric.
Neeson, a native of Ireland who has many friends employed as drivers and a Manhattan resident who regularly sees the horses in Central Park, led a tour the Clinton Park Horse Stables in Hell's Kitchen.
"These horses are well cared for," he said. "A beautiful industry it is. It's a connection with the past. It's a connection with our history."
Neeson said he was "disappointed" in de Blasio, who supports a ban and declined the invitation Sunday.
De Blasio, at an unrelated event in the Bronx, said he would visit another time, but his mind is made up on replacing carriages with vintage-style electric cars that could ferry tourists around and keep the drivers employed.
"I've traveled my own journey to coming to the view that it doesn't make sense anymore," de Blasio said, adding other major cities have a ban, "so I'm firm about the fact that we have to make this move."
The City Council has not set a date on the vote, but at least eight of its 51 members visited the stables Sunday.
Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said he has made unannounced visits to the stable before and supports the carriage industry.
"I'm a progressive, so I'm not looking to put 350 families out on the street," he said.
Council Member Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) said he had not taken a position on the ban, but said the horses appeared to be well cared for.
"Whenever you want to pass judgment on an industry and potentially put it out of business, you ought to expose yourself to both sides," he said.
Seventy-eight horses - one-half of the city's carriage horses - live at the stable in 8-foot-by-10-foot stalls and get five weeks' of vacation each year.
Carriage driver Joseph Cirnigliaro, 60, of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, said they treat the horses "like they're our babies."
Animal-rights activists with NYCLASS, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, in a statement said experts recommend 12-foot-by-12-foot stalls and their concern is for the horses in "dangerous midtown traffic."
“Why continue to subject horses to a risky nose-to-tailpipe existence when there’s a gorgeous, cruelty-free alternative, the electric antique replica Horseless Carriage?” the group asked.