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Russell Simmons leads protest over inaction on NYC horse carriage ban

Russell Simmons speaks to the media from inside

Russell Simmons speaks to the media from inside NYCLASS's electric Horseless eCarriage on Broadway next to the entrance to City Hall in Manhattan on Thursday, July 16, 2015. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons demonstrated his support of a proposed ban on Central Park's horse-drawn carriages with a ride to City Hall Thursday in an electric buggy and a winding soliloquy on animal abuse, police relations and political deal making.

"No emissions, no suffering," Simmons said, as the antique-style vehicle that animal activists have proposed as a replacement for carriages pulled up to Mayor Bill de Blasio's front door. "Dominion over the animals does not mean abuse."

The celebrity criticized the mayor for failing to make good on a 2013 campaign promise to immediately eliminate New York City's carriage industry upon taking office. De Blasio has described horse-drawn carriages as "inhumane."

"He's not as skillful a politician as we had hoped," Simmons said of de Blasio, explaining the mayor should be making deals with council members to advance the bill.

City Council members Daniel Dromm (D-Queens) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) in December introduced legislation to ban horse-drawn carriages, but the results of an environmental review and committee hearing dates have yet to be announced. Many council members are either undecided or against a ban, citing prospective job losses for the 300 carriage drivers.

Proponents of the ban, including New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS, are still lobbying council members who are on the fence. Opponents, including the Teamsters union local that represent drivers, say livelihoods and tradition are at stake.

Simmons, a vegan best known for founding the hip-hop label Def Jam, called de Blasio a friend, said they met with the mayor was a council member and marched together for the repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws that resulted in mandatory prison sentences for low-level offenders.

But the producer, clothing designer and reality TV star attacked de Blasio Thursday, calling him "weak" and "compromised" for what Simmons said was hesitation to improve police-community relations and enforce a horse carriage ban.

NYCLASS members stood around Simmons and the vehicle they've dubbed a "horseless carriage." Some held signs that read, "18 months & waiting, Mayor de Blasio."

"Mayor de Blasio made a promise to us. I was there," Simmons said. "I would respect him if he did what he promised. And I'm sad to say that even with his long history of support, when he got into office and business put their thumb on him and the police put their thumb on him, he didn't stand up."

De Blasio told reporters Thursday in the Bronx that he feels "very clear about the mission" of banning carriages.

"We have to do that work with the City Council. It's well-known there are different views on the City Council," he said. "It's something that I'll keep working on until we get the work done."

The delay is "part of the reality of leadership," de Blasio added.

The mayor said he's not worried about Simmons' criticism.

Simmons in a Hot 97 radio interview last month called de Blasio a "punk" and an expletive for not pushing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to more quickly appoint a special prosecutor to investigate police-involved deaths. He has since apologized.

Simmons Thursday lauded Cuomo, de Blasio's rival, for following through with an executive order to create an independent prosecutor.

His comments wandered into a comparison of animal abuse with slavery and the Holocaust.

Asked about City Council members supportive of horse carriages, Simmons said, "There were people for slavery. ... There were people who put people in ovens."

Dromm and Rodriguez's bill does not mention the vehicles, but de Blasio said at another Bronx event Wednesday that he backs the vintage car concept as a replacement for horse carriages in the park.

"First of all, I believe in the ban and I'm going to keep working for a ban," de Blasio said. "Second, I think the antique cars, the electric cars, would be a great alternative. Third, as with so many things, we are in constant discussion with the City Council, looking for what makes sense."

NYCLASS and others' aggressive campaigning for a ban has backfired in at least one situation as the City Council readies for a vote.

Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-Staten Island) in a Facebook message earlier this month said she was siding with carriage drivers after months of consideration, in part because "repeated phone calls from all corners of the country is not helpful and makes it difficult for my staff to serve the everyday needs of people in my district."

She sarcastically thanked NYCLASS for their tweets, Facebook messages, emails, paper mailers and phone calls, saying, "They certainly helped me to make up my mind."

With Matthew Chayes


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