De Blasio Headlines Fund-Raiser for Anti-Horse Carriage Group

Pint-sized NYCLASS protesters Zoe, 12, Annalisa, 13, and Harrison, 9.

NYCLASS protesters Zoe, 12, Annalisa, 13, and Harrison, 9, outside the event.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio tonight headlined a fund-raiser for the anti-horse carriage group NYCLASS and doubled down on his vow to ban the carriages after he takes office in January.

Members of the press were barred by the group from entering the small event, held in the lobby of the Hippodrome Building in Midtown, and strained to hear snippets of  Mr. de Blasio’s remarks with ears pressed against glass doors and windows.

“I’m honored to be a part of your movement,” declared Mr. de Blasio, to loud cheers from the crowd. “I believe it’s time to end horse carriages in New York City.”

NYCLASS and its board members were among the major funders of New York City is Not For Sale’s “Anybody But Quinn” campaign, which helped derail Mr. de Blasio’s fiercest challenger in the Democratic mayoral primary: Christine Quinn. While the group insisted that it was unaligned with Mr. de Blasio’s campaign, many of the group’s backers ended up supporting him–drawing questions from critics wondering if it was a de facto pro-de Blasio effort.

The group also raised eyebrows for a series of over-the-limit campaign contributions and for its association with the Advance Group, which drew fire during the election for running both campaigns and independent expenditure efforts, among other issues.

But Mr. de Blasio, whose headlining appearance at the event did not appear on his public schedule, quickly brushed off the criticism.

“I am proud to be associated with NYCLASS,” he said, stating that, when people have tried to link him with the group as though it’s a negative, he happily responds with a “thank you very much.”

Mr. de Blasio also admitted he had come late to the issue, but had received help at home—especially from his college-aged daughter, Chiara. Now, he said, it’s only a matter of time before the carriages are banned.“Soon we will gather on the steps of City Hall to celebrate legislation,” he said.

But outside the “Animal Heroes” event, pro-carriage horse activists protested NYCLASS. These activists say the horses are well cared for and question what will  happen to the 300-plus horses if they are banned—with some threatening they’ll be put to death.

Others question the group’s motives. Steve Nislick, NYCLASS’s co-founder and president, is a former real estate executive at Edison Properties, which has long been suspected of eying the West Side property where the stables are currently located. “He’s been misled,” said carriage horse driver Christina Hansen, 33, of Mr. de Blasio, arguing the city’s carriage horses are some of the best cared for in the nation.

“They talk about being ‘horse heroes.’ They’re ‘horse zeros.’ They haven’t helped a single horse. If anything, they’re actually putting horses at risk for neglect and abuse or slaughter,” Ms. Hansen said, arguing the money the group had spent on the election could have been far better spent rescuing horses in danger.

Walker Blankinship, the owner of Kensington Stables in Prospect Park, echoed the charges, arguing that if the group really cared about horses it would be using its money to save them now. “You can put your money right into horses being saved now. Instead,” he said, “they’re attacking horses that have homes, that are being taking care of, and that are loved by their owners.”

Scott Fintz, 47, whose young kinds are avid riders, further argued Mr. de Blasio’s stance contradicted with his progressive beliefs.

“Any laws banning carriage horses will have a bang-on effect to working people,” he said. “We have a mayor who says he’s progressive and is for working folks, that is siding with an organization like NYCLASS, whose board of directors is made of the [former] CEO of Edison properties, who has a stake in–guess what?–the horseless carriages that are going to replace the horses,” he said.

“What’s going to happen to these horses? They’re going to be slaughtered,” he added. “As an educated New Yorker, it’s kind of madness.”

Reached for comment, NYCLASS’s spokeswoman said the group is “committed to finding loving forever homes for NYC carriage horses.” She estimated the event, which included an open bar and vegan food, raised about $100,000.