NEW YORK — A political battle is raging here over an iconic mode of transportation you might have used if you visited the city this winter: not the subway or yellow cabs, but Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages.
The fight centers on whether to ban the carriages out of concern for the horses’ welfare. But it has the trappings of a good old-fashioned political brawl: a well-funded network of activists, a powerful union, ambitious mayoral candidates and prime Manhattan real estate.
The strife has been building for a few years, and animal rights activists claimed a major victory in November when their ally, Democrat Bill de Blasio, won the mayoral election, thanks in part to the activists’ attacks on his primary opponent, Christine Quinn.
It’s unclear how aggressively de Blasio will pursue the carriage ban once he takes office in the new year. For now, the activists, aided by a deep-pocketed developer, are vowing to keep up the fight. But with their livelihoods potentially on the line, the carriage drivers aren’t backing down. And they’re getting some powerful backup from the Teamsters union, a political force in labor-friendly New York.
De Blasio aides declined to provide details about the mayor-elect’s work on the issue during the transition, saying only that he is committed to following through on the ban. He attended a fundraiser hosted by animal rights group NYCLASS earlier this month, reportedly receiving a bronze horse statue for his support.
Whatever the de Blasio era brings, it will be felt not just by gaggles of tourists in Central Park, but also by the horses and drivers in the industry’s four stables on the West Side of Manhattan. The manager of Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street, Conor McHugh, opened the facility — and the stall of one of his own horses, Arnie — to a reporter two days before Christmas as he mused about the carriages’ future.
“If people didn’t want to ride in our carriages, we would be out of business,” said McHugh, sidestepping a staffer wheeling hay through the stable and greeting a veterinarian who was making rounds. But the demand is there and the industry already hews to many city-imposed regulations, he said.
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