Today, the most heat-generating issue in New York City—the issue that is prompting our council to consider a measure that it has never used before, according to one member—is not homelessness, or a lack of affordable housing, or even the L Train apocalypse—but the fate of the horse-and-carriage industry. How did we get here?
The New York Times reports today that while Bill de Blasio was making his frankly sort of depressing visit to Iowa to knock on doors for Hillary, certain City Council members began to reconsider their support for a measure that would drastically downsize the number of carriages in the city and limit them to Central Park. The mayor, you’ll recall, promised to ban the industry outright on his first day in office, and has struggled since then to marshal support for the idea. The Central Park measure, which will see a vote on Friday, was intended as a compromise.
Not so fast! Pedicab drivers, who would be banned from the touristy southern half of the park under the plan, presumably including Columbus Circle, where they congregate now, are seeking to unionize. Transport Workers Union Local 100, the powerful union that hopes to back them, is against the legislation, as are the Central Labor Council, another union, and the carriage drivers, who are represented by the Teamsters. The Central Park Conservancy, which manages the park, also has concerns. That’s a lot of constituencies a member might alienate by voting the wrong way.
According to the Times, some in the council are discussing a so-called “nuclear option,” which would allow changes to be made to the bill on the day of the vote, and might cause some drama and debate on the council floor. Considering the forces at play, a scaling back or outright retraction of the pedicab ban might be one of those changes. “It’s never been done before, but it’s possible,” one councilman said.
So, how did we get here? Why is Bill de Blasio so intent on passing a bill that no one seems to want? NYCLASS, the main organization in support of a carriage ban, donated some money to his 2013 campaign coffers, and even more to an organization devoted solely to taking down former council speaker Christine Quinn, who was seen at the time as a shoo-in for the mayoralty. As Gawker’s Brendan O’Connor laid out in his great column at The Awl last month, the whole affair likely has as much to do with some pricey West Side real estate as it does with protecting animal rights, the ostensible reason for the bill.
Amid the turmoil, the mayor quietly and extra-legislatively agreed with carriage drivers that NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism arm, would give promotion to the industry, a union official told the Times. If the mayor genuinely believes the carriages are inhumane and inappropriate, as he said after he was elected, giving their drivers free advertising is a strange way of showing it.