Could a Dark Horse in the New York Mayoral Primary Be Carriage Horses?
By Robert Wilbur and Martha Rosenberg
Reports of Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s sexting recidivism initially vaulted Democrat Christine C. Quinn into the frontrunner position. Quinn, currently speaker of the New York City Council, is an out lesbian and has significant feminist and LGBT support, especially as the only woman Democratic candidate in a sea of male sex scandals. But now candidate Bill de Blasio, New York City Public Advocate, is rallying as the primary approaches. And some say a dark horse in the primary could be New York City’s carriage horse industry which de Blasio has vowed to abolish as one of his first Mayoral acts if elected.
Manhattan’s carriage horses, immortalized by Sex in the City episodes, may charm tourists but they do not lead charmed lives. The 2011 death of carriage horse, Charlie, as he pulled a carriage, is only one disturbing event say opponents. In 2006, a carriage horse named "Smoothie" was euthanized after an accident says Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends Of Animals. Many incidents of animals collapsing and dying go unrecorded, especially if they occur out of public sight in the stables, she says.
Quinn, like Mayor Bloomberg, affirms the industry as a valuable source of jobs but critics say the largely foreign carriage drivers are not even legal American workers and lack basic empathy toward their equine charges. The issue has proved a wedge between Quinn and her natural constituencies, spawning web sites like Queers Against Quinn, Christine Quinn Sold Out and Anybody But Quinn. One site, Quinn Hates Animals, itemizes other anti-animal stances Quinn has allegedly adopted such as opposing humane education in public schools and allowing circus animal abuse.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem calls the carriage horse issue a "sticking point” in her support of Quinn because Steinem is also an animal advocate.
Last summer, the carriage horse issue came to a head when tennis celebrity and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spokesman Martina Navratilova and others were berated by a driver with shocking slurs, using the N word, C word for women and D word for lesbians, while they were protesting the carriage rides.
Stephen Malone, a stable owner, carriage driver and spokesman for the industry, admitted that only two of the approximately 150 drivers are American in an interview. But, he says the industry is a New York “tradition” and animal advocates are trying to take “food” out of his children’s mouths.
According to Edita Birnkran
t of Friends Of Animals, the New York Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs nominally regulates the carriage horse industry but gives complaints to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) which has 12 to 18 officers, only one or two monitoring carriage horses. But Stephen Malone, the carriage horse spokesman, disputes that there are only one or two officers watching the industry and rattled off several ASPCA names that he says drivers work with.
According to animal advocates, the life and fate of the city's 200 to 220 current carriage horses is cruel. After facing heat prostration, exhaust pipe fumes, inhumane stable conditions and driver mishandling, they are bought by killer-buyers for slaughter at a mere four to seven years says veterinarian Holly Cheever. Every year, as many as 60 horses “disappear” from city records, presumably dying in the stables or going to Mexico or Canada for slaughter, say Dr Cheever.
Ruth A. Juris, a former equine veterinarian who testified about the carriages over twenty years in front of Mayor David Dinkins, agrees. "Horses are among the most skittish and sensitive of living creatures and the most humane solution would be to ban the carriage horse industry at once because all measures to confine horses to Central Park, and to ensure that the horses have proper food, water, and humane stables, have failed," she says.