This week, New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced that his administration would outlaw the city’s carriage horses. “We are going to get rid of horse carriages, period,” he said.
Animal rights advocates have long lobbied for the ban, citing the inhumane conditions suffered by the horses. In New York City, the ban is very much a mainstream political position. In the most recent mayoral election, all the major candidates except the Bloombergite Christine Quinn favored the carriage ban — yes, even the Republican, Joseph Lhota, supported it. So no, it’s not some kooky hippie commie radical chic crusade. And if you’re worried about what will happen to the carriage drivers — which you should be — don’t be alarmed. The horse carriages will be replaced with electric antique cars, to be driven by those same carriage drivers.
The reaction to the de Blasio administration’s plan from the pundit class has been — how shall I phrase this? — a load of horse crap.
First up, we have noted libertarian wanker Nick Gillespie. In the Daily Beast, Gillespie writes:
Upon taking office, de Blasio has made it his absolute highest priority “to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape in New York City.”
All right, stop right there. Kathy Bates has something to say about Gillespie’s claim that banning the carriage horses is de Blasio’s “absolute highest priority.” Take it away, Kathy!
(The above clip is my very favorite moment thus far from this season of American Horror Story: Coven. You do know that American Horror Story is a blast and a hoot and the best, not to mention the gayest, show on TV right now, right?)
Okay, back to horses.
Mayor de Blasio never said that banning the carriage horses was his “absolute highest priority,” or even a “priority”! During Monday’s news conference where he announced the new schools chancellor, in response to a question, he reiterated his support for the ban, which he has long favored. That’s it! As anyone who paid attention to his campaign for about ten seconds knows full well, he has always said his top priority is alleviating economic inequality.
Let me help you out, Nick. Listen to what de Blasio said here:
1. What is the most important issue in the city you would address if elected?
My top priority will be addressing economic inequality. For far too long, City Hall has catered to the elite while middle and working-class families are dismissed or ignored. To tackle economic inequality, we must strengthen our education system, expand and protect affordable housing, and create strong jobs across all five boroughs. I am the only candidate who has a plan to create universal early education and after-school programs by asking the wealthiest to pay a little more in taxes.
Gillespie also huffs and puffs about de Blasio allegedly being some kind of lunatic Caligula-style tyrant, as if he will somehow be able to enact the carriage ban by fiat. But de Blasio’s proposal requires the approval of the City Council. The plan does in fact enjoy widespread support there, and has for years. The major obstacle preventing it from becoming law had been Mayor Bloomberg, who opposed it.
Gillespie apparently picked up this non-story from another lazy hack journalist, the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal. Rosenthal seems to be the source of the lie that de Blasio was making the horses his “priority.” His post about the horse carriage issue is light on facts but heavy on narcissistic misty water-colored memories of Rosenthal’s childhood and how much he enjoyed seeing the horses at the Central Park Zoo. Because hey, shouldn’t we all be invested in making public policy based on what gave little Andrew warm fee-fees as a child?
What Rosenthal barely addresses — and what Gillespie doesn’t touch on at all — are the actual ethical and public policy issues at stake. It should be crystal clear to anyone that 21st century traffic in a major American city is no place for horse carriages. Traffic causes distress to the animals, and frightened carriage horses who bolt have been responsible for numerous traffic accidents.
There are also serious concerns about inhumane treatment of the horses. An independent audit done for the city found that many owners “maintain their horses in substandard conditions.” Horses frequently become overheated, are not provided with enough water, and “are forced to stand in their own waste because of inadequate drainage.” The report also found that veterinary care was “lax” and that the city had abandoned its responsibility to regulate the industry.
Every year, New York City newspapers publish heart-rending stories about horse drivers who commit animal cruelty and abused, overworked horses who collapse and die in the street. It’s long past time we as a society put an end to this needless cruelty.
But maybe you’re the kind of cold-hearted bastard who just doesn’t care about the suffering this cruel industry inflicts on the horses. If so, then you might want to think about how the industry hurts public health and safety — without contributing much in the way of economic benefits. Consider:
— The horse buggies create traffic hazards and public safety problems. The slow-moving carriages cause traffic congestion, and, as noted previously, “spooked” carriage horses are the source of major traffic accidents that damage vehicles and injure people and the horses themselves. In addition, “jagged ruts made by carriage wheels are dangerous for cyclists, runners and pedi-cabs using the areas in and around Central Park.”
— The horse buggies don’t bring any discernible economic benefit to New York City. Do you think people from all over the world travel to New York just so they can ride around Central Park in those horse-drawn carriages? Really? One study comparing the economic benefits of the horse carriages vs. the proposed antique cars found that the cars would bring in an estimated $14 million more per year. It’s also expensive to regulate the horse carriages and repair the road damage the carriages create — according to one estimate, those cost adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
— Finally, there are sanitation issues. The carriage drivers don’t always clean up after the horses, and horse poop does not smell like roses. Worse, such unsanitary conditions can transmit disease to other animals and to people.
Banning the horse carriages is not only the most humane policy, it’s also the safest, most sensible and economically efficient policy.
New York City’s horse carriage policy is a clear-cut, black-and-white issue — so much so that even a conservative Republican like mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota was on the right side of it. I seriously doubt that many people other than the horse carriage industry itself are particularly passionate about preserving New York’s carriage horse trade.
What is clear is that the wanker class is extremely hostile to Mayor de Blasio, and that they’re trying to destroy his administration almost before it’s begun. If they don’t have anything real to attack him with, they’ll make stuff up. “That left-wing whackjob New York mayor! He said horses would be his absolute top priority — can you believe it?” But in 2013, I don’t think the media is going to get away with spinning such fantasies, the way they did in the glory days of Whitewater and “Al Gore said he invented internet.” Bloggers are on the case, and we are not afraid to tell them when they’re peddling a load of horsecrap.
UPDATE: I should note that libertarians and centrists like Gillespie and Rosenthal aren’t the only journalists freaking out about the horse carriage issuing. In the past week alone, the National Review Online has published at least two blog posts and an article shrieking about the proposed ban (H/T Edroso). Ah yes, it’s going to be a fun four years for Mr. de Blasio.