NYCLASS, Bill de Blasio, and the Shit Sandwich

I’m stepping a little out of my typical rant zone here to comment on another animal welfare fight in New York City over carriage horses.

First, a little background: NYCLASS was founded on the single issue of banning horse carriages in New York City in 2008 by Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu. Nislick happens to be a powerful real estate magnate, and it was always speculated – and denied by NYCLASS – that his interest in the issue was motivated as much by a hunger for the West Side property that horse stables now sit on as much as his love for equestria.

In our last mayoral race, NYCLASS became a power player in a big way. The group and associated individuals reportedly spent more than a million dollars to help knock former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn out of the mayoral race in favor of their preferred candidate, Bill de Blasio. They helped make animal welfare a major issue in New York City’s last mayoral race, and secured the promise from their chosen candidate that the horse carriage industry would be banned on the very first day of his administration (which the mayor cannot actually do, but never mind that). NYCLASS was on top of the world – in just a few short years they had become one of the most powerful special interest lobbying groups in New York City.

Their man was elected. de Blasio took office, and that began a series of strange and tragic missteps for the group. In a stunning display of political naivete, they celebrated and crowed about their download (5)victory when they should have been holding the new mayor’s feet to the fire. They got caught and fined for committing “campaign finance violations”, or what you and I might call bribes, or favors. They formed an ill-advised alliance with national animal welfare joke PETA and adopted some of their hard-line protest tactics against undecided members of the city council, which turned off both council members and the public. They repeated some embarrassingly bad information that wasn’t true. They were badly bruised by a New York Daily News campaign in favor of the horse trade. And they were never able to secure the needed support in the city council for a ban bill – support that was needed all along – to push a ban through.

de Blasio probably would have been wise to simply drop the issue. But he has to repay his patrons, so a new carriage horse compromise bill is currently expected to be voted on this Friday. This bill is seemingly designed to piss nearly every stakeholder involved off, and add a few new groups as well.

You may read the exact text of NYC Intro 573B here, and I suggest that you do… but here’s a quick summary.

-Limits the operation of horse-drawn carriages, with the exception of travel to and from their existing stables, to Central Park beginning June 1, 2016.
-Reduces the number of licensed horses from approximately 180 to 110 by December 1, 2016. When the Central Park stable opens, the number of licensed horses will drop to 95, with 75 horses in a long term home in Central Park stables. Horses not at work must be on furlough outside the City.
-Requires the establishment of a stable within Central Park by October 1, 2018.
-Once the stable is complete, all travel and operations will be inside Central Park, providing space for 68 carriages and 75 horses.
-Reduces the number of hours per day a carriage may operate to 9 hours in any 24-hour period beginning December 1, 2016. Increases the time window for shifts to include operation during Central Park hours.
-Pedicabs will not be permitted to operate in Central Park south of the 85th Street Transverse, beginning on June 1, 2016

The bill effectively restricts the operation of horse-drawn carriages to within Central Park, getting them out of traffic. It provides for a modest improvement in the horses’ living and working conditions and a reduction in the total number of working licenses issued by the city. But it does so at a very steep cost: taxpayers must renovate a new stable within Central Park at a current estimated cost of $25 million (a number which is likely to go up). That stable, within a public park, will be for the exclusive use of a private industry. The city will further protect the economic interests of the carriage industry by banning pedicabs from part of the park where they would compete with horse carriages. Effectively this bill trades modest improvements for the city’s official seal of approval and economic sanction of the trade as the industry’s landlord and protector.

Some people have painted this deal as a victory for incrementalism. It is not. Once the city has an economic interest in promoting the trade it will be that much harder to eliminate it.

I am not by any means a hard liner on the horse carriage issue. I probably could have lived with some deal that got the horses out of traffic (where just about any sensible person will tell you they don’t belong) and kept them within Central Park as an incremental step. But I’ll be damned if my tax money will be used for a giveaway for this industry and to secure their future and security by virtue of the protection of the city.

It’s a rotten deal for animal welfare, a rotten deal for taxpayers, and a rotten deal for the poor pedicab drivers who had no dog in this fight at all and were suddenly tossed in without any warning – although I can’t stand them in traffic either, they’re at least operating a business that doesn’t involve any animal exploitation.

And NYCLASS? In their hunger for a deal and a victory they may set back their original cause to ban horse carriages by a decade or more. They’re up to their old dishonest tricks, misleading their supporters into thinking the legislation is all pros and no cons, pivoting their messaging instantly from nothing but a total ban will do to getting them out of the streets is good enough, hustling for something before their power and influence is completely dead.

Oh, and if the bill that NYCLASS supports passes, the horses will be moved out of that valuable West Side real estate they currently occupy.

But as always, NYCLASS maintains that is just coincidence.

The bill will be discussed by the City Council this Friday, Feb 5, at 10AM. Please call your New York City Council Member and ask them to oppose Intro 573B.

UPDATE 2/4/16: The bill is dead. It is likely to be quite some time before we see another attempt at legislation. Perhaps NYCLASS can use that time to reflect on whose interests they wish to represent.

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