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Horse carriage ban has uncertain support

A horse-drawn carriage enters Central Park South, Wednesday,

A horse-drawn carriage enters Central Park South, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

Mayor Bill de Blasio's vow to ban Central Park horse-drawn carriages is no sure thing as City Council members await a credible plan to create new jobs for the 300-plus drivers.

De Blasio had pledged to act in his first week in office, saying the horses face inhumane working conditions. Now, in Week 12, no bill has been introduced and no timetable set. Many lawmakers say they're undecided.

A Quinnipiac University poll yesterday found that voters oppose de Blasio's plan, by 64% to 24%.

"Oftentimes, the rhetoric of a campaign trail crashes on the rocks of reality once it's time to implement those ideas," said Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), who opposes a ban, citing concern for the drivers' livelihoods.

"The votes aren't there," said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens), who is undecided.

Interviews with 42 council members or their representatives found that eight oppose the ban, 15 support it and 19 are undecided, saying they want to hear from all sides. The other nine of the 51 members did not respond.

A key question for many of those opposed and undecided is whether the idea backed by carriage foes and de Blasio to create new jobs for horse drivers -- operating electric-powered vintage cars -- can work.

Some council members who co-sponsored or supported previous ban legislation, including Peter Koo (D-Queens) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), said they're now on the fence and want reassurance that the drivers will have new work before committing to a bill.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, at a forum last week, said the administration is committed to a ban, but there's "a lot of work to be done on the 'how.'"

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; celebrities such as singer Pink; animal-rights group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NYClass; and de Blasio say it is cruel to keep horses on city streets.

The AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and actor Liam Neeson say that the horses are well-treated, that jobs and tradition are at stake, and electric cars won't attract enough tourism dollars.

De Blasio benefited last year when NYClass funded negative ads targeting his Democratic primary foe Christine Quinn.

Mark-Viverito co-sponsored a 2010 bill to ban carriages. Asked about the delay on legislation, her spokesman said Monday that turnover in the council means more time is needed to familiarize potential allies with the issue.

"It's just a matter of time," said pro-ban Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens). "It's way too dangerous for horses to be in New York City traffic. . . . I've seen photos and videos of horses hit by cars. It's heart-wrenching."


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