I ought to say at the beginning of this piece that is clear this morning why the lobbyists and representatives of the New York Carriage Horses did not wish to support a public ceremony of gratitude and thanks for surviving the massive and lavishly-funded assault on their work and way of life this year. It's because this unnecessary and cruel conflict is far from over, according to new news reports. The mayor has come up with an even more surreal, sneaky and corrupt campaign than last year's effort, which would have replaced the horses with giant electric cars in the name of saving the environment. As part of the plan, he so sensitively offered the drivers – including many for whom work with horses is a way of life – the opportunity to drive little green taxis in the Bronx and the outer boroughs once their work and property was taken from them.
I was wrong and acknowledge it. The carriage trade and their lobbyists and lawyers I have very different ideas about openness, but I can't blame them for being wary and secretive, it is almost inevitable when you are dealing with fanatics, angry and vicious millionaires, lazy journalists, ruthless real estate developers and viscerally dishonest politicians who lie like rugs. I apologize to them, it is not for me to tell them what to do in any case. They have their hands full.
I am fired up again, I'm in this fight for good, people who love and understand animals will fight just as hard for them, I believe, as disconnected ideologues who know nothing about them.
So here we go once more, this new and apparently eternal fight to keep animals in our world rather than drive them away from us. The horses are in danger once more, facing purposeless lives on rescue farms or, as is much more likely, slaughter. The mayor's idea is to kill them in order to save them. Also in peril are the jobs of hundreds of mostly good and hard working people. Truly, they are the ones being abused.
Our allegedly progressive hero has gone after some working people again, and threatens to send hundreds of safe and healthy horses out into the horrific maelstrom of slaughter and rescue that has swept the horse world. This is another of the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier will shrink from the service of the horses; but he that stands by them now, deserves the love and thanks of every horse and animal in the world. Tyranny and ignorance, like hell, are not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
The horses will thank you, even if the lobbyists are too busy fighting.
I think this round will be a lot easier than the last one. The new plan is…well, dumb. The animal rights groups in New York may be determined, but they don't seem to be all that bright. They are the animal world's Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, all those millions of dollars and countless lies and distortions, and it seems they didn't change the mind of a single New Yorker in the two years since the mayor promised to ban the horses on "day one" of his new administration.
Last night, the New York Times reported a new and especially sneaky back room assault by Mayor De Blasio. The man who has never owned a dog or a cat or ridden a horse is proposing getting rid of all but a handful of the 220 horses pulling carriages in Central Park, and relegating the survivors to a small old stable inside of the park.
According to the Times, the mayor has told members of the City Council he feels obliged to keep his word to Nyclass and the other animal rights groups who spent more than $1 million to defeat the mayor's primary opponent in the 2010 mayoral and have given more than $200,000 to the mayor's personal non-profit political organization. The poor man, if he knows nothing about horses, he is at least reluctantly but clearly honest about his true motives: money.
And he does know nothing about horses, he seems to almost jump out of his shoes when asked about them.
If you think of animal rights people as little old ladies fussing over their feral cats, think again. And don't believe for a second that the money you send them in New York City actually goes to help animals. The new animal rights people are right out of K street in Washington, they have PR firms, fund-raising specialists, mass marketers, expensive phone trees. Their treasury goes to lobbyists, not animals. Nyclass, the group spearheading the fight against the horses, cannot point to one single animal anywhere that they have actually saved or rescued. (Go look for yourself on their website.) Instead, they have spent millions of dollars electing mayors, printing hateful pamphlets, harassing carriage drivers and their customers, holding Orwellian press conferences, threatening City Council members, and lying about the carriage trade.
They function almost precisely as a hate group, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center's definition. It is disturbing to read how closely it fits.
Their most passionate goal in New York is separating the horses from their safe and beloved jobs working in Central Park. The mayor once again assumes the city's residents are stupid. So far, his constituents have shown that they are anything but. His new plan would keep the horses in the park day and night, they would never have to travel outside of the park. This would be better for them, he says, he is worried about them and the people they might harm.
But the horses are not unsafe trotting to and from their stables. Three have been killed in the past 30 years out f more than three million rides. Horses in the wild die at a dramatically higher rate – of exposure, starvation, lack of medical care, predators. According to the city's veterinary and health records – city vets check the horses regularly – no carriage horse is known to have died of respiratory disease from the allegedly toxic fumes the mayor says he worries about. According to the New York City Health Department, 7.6 out of every 100,000 human deaths in New York are related to pollution. The horses seem overall to be much safer than people.
Nearly 100,000 of New Yonkers have been killed or injured by cars and bicycles in the the past 30 years. Perhaps the city's residents should be forced into the park in affordable housing to keep them safe from the traffic of the city.
This morning, the mayor told a reporter for Fox News that he has long believed the city streets are not safe for the horses, and that the horses endanger people. Honestly, he said, he'd love to get rid of all of the horses, but that doesn't seem to be happening, he said sadly. No reporter I have seen has yet bothered to ask him about the safety statistics regarding horses and people in New York City.
The interviewer asked the mayor if it mattered that the city's residents want the horses to stay, and the mayor looked at her as if her head had just fallen off.
Here are some statistics: First, no person has ever been killed by a carriage horse in New York City, not one in 150 years.
In contrast, New York City as a whole – including Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island (Richmond County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and the Bronx – had a total of 125,550 reported motor vehicle accidents in one recent year alone. 348 of these accidents resulted in fatalities. 83,273 of these New York City motor vehicle accidents resulted in personal injuries to those involved, and property damage was caused by 41,929 accidents.
In 2013, according to the NYPD, 16,059 pedestrians and cyclists (this doesn't include motor vehicle drivers and passengers) were injured in accidents. 178 pedestrians were killed in traffic. In October of 2015 alone, according to NYPD records, nearly 5,000 people were injured in motor vehicle-and bicycle related accidents in New York City, and 25 people were killed. You do have to wonder why the mayor has become obsessed with banning an industry with by far the best safety record of any business in the city that operates on streets and with the public, while he ignores the deaths of thousands of people.
It's a curiously selective focus on safety. If the horses must be banned for their own protection, what about the people? Does the mayor really want to ask 25 horses to carry the workload of 220, ten times the work? Is the idea to actually abuse the horses in the city rather than leave them in health and safety?
The mayor is offering no plan to remove motor vehicles or pedicabs or taxis from Central Park or its environs, or of setting up horse lanes at special times for horses only, moves that would cost little and make people and horses dramatically more safe. The victims of accidents in New York might want to consider donating to the mayor's re-election campaign or non-profit website.
The mayor was asked on TV this morning how the hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to his non-profit site from the animal rights groups lobbying to ban the horses might affect his judgement about the carriage horses. He said of course not, his only concern was for safety.
It's true they used to call that bribery, perhaps extortion, but in our time it's called campaign financing. Everybody does it.
The mayor said his new plan is a compromise. This is all part of the democratic process, he said, blowing off the question of ignoring his own constituents, who overwhelming support the horses. This another curious statement from a mayor who has ignored public opinion, newspaper editors, unions and the Chamber of Commerce, who talks only to millionaire real estate developers about the horses. He has refused to meet or speak with a single carriage driver or stable owner or their representatives, lawyers or lobbyists.
This is a lover of democratic process who will not visit the stables in the city to see for himself if the horses are safe or not, or in any way acknowledge the very lengthy list of veterinarians, behaviorists, trainers and horse lovers who insist the horses are safe and healthy – and lucky.
Nor will the mayor discuss the carriage horse controversy or negotiate in public, out in the light and away from the back rooms of City Hall. This new plan has only been made public because of the Times, not because of any transparency on the mayor's part. His war against the carriage horses has been conducted almost entirely in secret. And small wonder. He would be eaten alive if he actually tried to debate the issue with anyone who knows a thing about horses.
I want to mention the real story, the one that moves me the most. I spent time yesterday afternoon and evening e-mailing and phoning people in the carriage trade, especially the drivers. They are the closest to my heart, I think. They are among the last true individualists in New York City, staying outside of the Corporate Nation, working in the shadow of the big office towers where so many people now spent their lives working in jobs they hate for people who could care less about them.
They are hurting, live in almost continuous fear and harassment. The very leaders and institutions sworn to protect them are part of an odious conspiracy to take their horses and lives from them.
The carriage drivers love their work, they love their lives. How sad that this has become almost a crime in America. I wonder sometimes if there is any place in our disconnected nation when people can live freely, and well outside of the box.
This morning, I spoke with one City Council member who has watched the carriage horse debate but mostly stayed out of it, not wishing to be trapped between the unions and the animal rights movement.
"Last year's plan was pretty loopy – replacing horses with motor cars," he said, "People in New York love the horses, and he claims to be a populist. How can he justify ignoring 62 per cent of the public, and going after working people? I don't think the ban ever had a chance, it never made sense. The new plan is even dumber. He needs to get the Teamsters, and the Central Park Conservancy on board, and also get the crazies from Nyclass to agree to keeping horses in the city, and how can they accept that when they've been screaming that work for horses is cruel and is abuse? The Central Park Conservancy people love the horses, they think he's lost his mind. It looks like he's just throwing meat to the lions to keep them off of his back. The animal rights people have a lot of money and they are giving a lot of it to him, but they're getting increasingly angry, they believe he has broken his promise to get rid of the horses, and they gave him a lot of money to do it. They gave a million dollars to defeat his major opponent. If they're dumb enough to buy this new deal, he gets off the hook. But he's never going to line all those elements up, it's a fantasy. The Teamsters kicked the crap out of him last year, they'll do it again. If anyone gets the carriage trade, it will be the real estate developers. They are killers, and they've got billions. Time is on their side."
Besides all of that, he said, his grandmother got married in Central Park and rode a carriage as part of the ceremony. "They take a ride every year on their anniversary. "The mayor has no idea how much people love the horses,mpeople who live here and tourists. They know the horses are fine, they see them all the time. For a politician who claims to be progressive, he seems pretty out of touch. I've talked to some of my colleagues this morning and mostly they are just ticked off at having to deal with this again so soon. Those poor people (the carriage drivers) deserve a breather from this. So do we."
For me, the carriage trade has become the land of broken dreams, the casualties of politicians who have forgotten their sworn duty to protect freedom and property, not to take it away because millionaires have given them money to do so.
One driver – he is from Italy – always hoped and dreamed his grandchildren and continue the tradition of his family of working with horses, it goes back hundreds of years. He was going to retire and give her his medallion, she has always loved horses as much as he has. "Now, I wouldn't let her do it. I wouldn't want her to live like this. They've stolen my dreams."
Once again, just before Christmas, the mayor has subjected dozens of working families to more of the fear, anger and uncertainty that has hung over their lives like a storm cloud for years. "We haven't bought a new car for three years, and mine has 200,000 miles on it. I'm afraid to buy it if I'm out of work and can't make payments." Another told me his daughter's dream of becoming a doctor is on hold, and may have to be scrapped. They don't think they can pay the tuition if some of the medallions are cut. Others cancel vacations, postpone repairs, think of other work they might have to find.
The drivers have lost their dreams, their peace of mind, their vision of the future, and increasingly, their vision of America as a place where government protects freedom and property. And where peaceful and law-abiding people can live in peace. They have broken no laws, committed no crimes, violated none of the hundreds of regulations that govern their work.
Yet they live like criminals, harassed, monitored, insulted and kept in awful limbo and uncertainty. Nobody can live like that for too long and not suffer. Nobody should have to.
I suspect the City Council member is correct, a political reporter I spoke with today echoed the council member's assessment. "Nobody can imagine why the mayor would resurrect this issue when his polls are in the toilet and his popularity among working-class people has never been lower. Although that might be the answer. It can only be that he's more afraid of Nyclass and their money than he is of the actual working class. Nobody who knows or works with him all these years has ever heard him mention a horse. This is the real and new power of money in politics. He knows how much damage these people can do, they did it for him (in their attacks on the Republican running for mayor, Christine Quinn). Even so, that seems a big mistake to me. Does he really want to be the mayor that drives the horses out of the New York and leaves hundreds of people out of work?"