With so many urgent issues facing the city, why did Mayor Bill de Blasio make getting rid of New York's iconic horse-drawn carriages his first priority?
"They are not humane, and not appropriate for the year 2014," de Blasio said right before taking office. "So just watch us do it." He proposes replacing the carriages with antique-like electric cars.
The carriage-horse owners and drivers are furious. They say the horses are well-treated, the industry is well-regulated, and if it's done away with, many newly unemployed horses would have an increased chance of being shipped to the slaughterhouse.
Not true, said Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. "These slow-moving, dangerous conveyances do not belong in the heavily congested streets of New York City," she said. Horses, she added, spook easily and can become unwitting weapons that can kill or injure themselves or passersby.
But carriage-horse owners say that what's really behind the push to get rid of the Central Park carriage horses are developers who are perhaps looking to turn the stable properties into condos. According to Crain's New York, Steve Nislick, developer and founder of anti-carriage-horse group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, is a big de Blasio contributor. The group spearheaded an anti-Christine Quinn campaign when she was one of de Blasio's major rivals in the mayoral race.
Meanwhile, Forel said the argument about the horses being sent to slaughterhouses is a scare tactic. "If true, it will be the owners that take them there because the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries has lined up homes for all the horses if the owners are willing to give them up."
So what's really behind the bid to ban carriage horses, a tradition in New York for more than 150 years?
The animal rights activists, as well as the carriage horse owners and drivers who will lose their livelihoods, present compelling, sharply contrasting cases.
Those of us who have no horse in this race want to hear more. Can a compromise be reached? Perhaps the new enforcement-patrol stables recently built in Central Park could be extended to include carriage horses?
What do you think, Mayor de Blasio?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.