The Real Story Behind the Horse Carriage ‘Issue’

Bill de Blasio has been mayor for nearly four months now. From the very moment of his taking office, he has sought to distance himself from his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. He promised a new way of doing things, a new narrative, a new tale of two cities.

Four months on, what policy debate has inspired the greatest passions, led to the most heated rhetoric, indeed, has led to demonstrations and counter-demonstrations?

Tax policy? Nope. Pre-K? Actually, that was resolved pretty quietly. Ah! Charter schools, right? Actually, no, because despite some ill advised saber rattling, the new mayor seems content with the status quo.

So what is the biggest issue in post-Bloomberg New York? 

Horses. Yes, horses.

More specifically, of course, we’re talking about the horses that trudge their way in and around Central Park, the horses that pull carriages filled with out-of-towners and are guided by hard-working New Yorkers—many of them immigrants. 

As a candidate for mayor last year, Bill de Blasio began to distinguish himself from the pack, particularly from his main rival Christine Quinn, when he announced that he would support animal rights proposals to ban the carriage trade. Few gave it much thought at the time—surely there were more pressing issues to discuss—but as Mr. de Blasio emerged as a mayor-in-waiting last fall, some wondered if he really intended to follow through with his PETA agenda.

He did. Indeed, it became one of his priorities from Day 1 of his tenure. Animal rights activists have rallied to the cause, making the mayor a hero among the PETA set. Meanwhile, the daily newspapers and nostalgists like actor Liam Neeson have suggested that the jobs of human beings ought to count for something. 

So here we are, four months into a new era in New York politics, and we’re talking about … horses? 

That’s actually good news, and it is a tribute to the city Michael Bloomberg passed on to Mr. de Blasio and his colleagues. 

Not to diminish the passions of either side of the carriage debate, but if the topic of the moment is centered on the burdens of beasts, well, then New York has reason to count its collective blessings.

As the new mayor seems to be realizing, through his appointments and his actions, the last guy to hold the top job in City Hall wasn’t so bad after all. 

And that’s why we’re talking about carriage horses.