Animal Rights Group Slams Council Speaker as Horse Deal Collapses

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio would both get raises under a commission's proposal. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio would both get raises under a commission’s proposal. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council) William Alatriste/NYC Council

After a compromise deal to keep carriage horses in Central Park fell apart this morning, animal rights activists who have been trying to ban the industry for years placed the blame squarely on Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“The Speaker’s decision to continue to place carriage horses in harm’s way is outrageous and wrong,” said Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu, founders of the group New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS. “Let’s be clear about what this cold-hearted delay means—horses will continue their miserable nose-to-tailpipe existence, horses will continue to be hit and killed by city traffic, horses will continue to work until they are the equivalent of 80-years-old, and horses will continue to be sold to slaughter.”

The Council was set to vote on legislation tomorrow to ban the horses from city streets but not end the industry entirely—instead reducing the number of horses at work and relocating their stables and their operations to Central Park. That compromise had been announced by Ms. Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Teamsters, the union that represents horse carriage drivers.

But this morning, after intense pressure from their own members and other unions in the city, the Teamsters pulled out of the deal, saying they could not support the final legislation. While the Council insisted they still had the votes to pass it, Ms. Mark-Viverito said they would not vote on the deal now that the Teamsters did not support it.

“We have a sensible plan to protect the horses, and it deserves a vote. But instead the Speaker is allowing the Teamsters to call the shots and allow the horses to suffer,” Mr. Nislick and Ms. Neu said. “NYCLASS and our members will never stop fighting to improve the lives of these horses, and will only increase our efforts until the horses win.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito declined to comment on the statement from NYCLASS. In a statement this morning, she said simply that the deal had been negotiated “in good faith” and that the vote was off since “the Teamsters no longer support the deal.”

Animal rights group PETA, which had enlisted celebrities to urge council members to support the deal, also decried its failure.

“The horses are now prisoners of politics. One day, New York will catch up with other civilized cities that resolved this issue long ago,” said Dan Mathews, the group’s senior vice president.

The deal would have put an end to saga that has already been quite long-running. Mr. de Blasio had promised during his campaign that he would ban the industry on “day one,” and benefited from NYCLASS spending gobs of money advertising against his primary opponent, former Speaker Christine Quinn, who opposed banning the horse carriages. But upon his election, the mayor found passing the ban was not so easy: many council members saw no compelling reason to vote on a ban that polls show voters dislike or are indifferent about and that would upset organized labor, since the drivers are unionized.

The issue only became more fraught, it seemed, once Mr. de Blasio finally announced his compromise deal last week. Some animal advocates were angry it wasn’t a full ban. The deal included a ban on pedicabs in Central Park below 85th Street, outraging that industry and unions who were seeking to possibly represent the drivers. The plan called for spending $25 million to refurbish Parks property and hand it over to a private industry, which left parks advocates fuming. Things got worse when, at a City Council hearing last week, the administration was unable to answer basic questions about the deal.

Council members said today the deal seemed to fall apart overnight—with members finding out the vote had been scuttled this morning by text message or, in one case, by seeing a reporter’s Tweet. One insider said the breakdown happened because the Teamsters presented the final legislation to its members, the members just did not like the deal.

The deal had garnered additional controversy because the council was set to take the unpopular vote on the same day it would vote to give itself a big raise—leading some to wonder if the two were related. With the horse bill scuttled, the council will still vote to give itself a $36,000 raise tomorrow.

Will Bredderman contributed reporting.