City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is having a good year. He showed leadership in the blackout this summer while the mayor was AWOL, and he will likely get his “master-streets” plan enacted, showing long-term strategy. But as he looks to a mayoral run, he should avoid a catastrophe: getting sucked into de Blasio-era horse-carriage nonsense.
Mayor Bill de Blasio spent his first term mired in a bizarre jihad against New York’s horse-carriage industry — an industry that is well-regulated and creates 300 good jobs. First, in 2017, he tried to ban the industry, doing the bidding of a property-backed group, NYCLASS, whose board members had donated heavily to the mayor. But then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stood up to the mayor in refusing a vote.
Since then, NYCLASS hasn’t slunk away. It has changed strategy, from demanding an outright ban to killing the industry through attrition. This is smart: It’s exhausting for people trying to do their jobs to constantly have to come out in force at council hearings, votes and the like. And the public, which supports the industry, doesn’t follow every byzantine twist and turn.
This year, Hizzoner, literally under cover of night, tore up Central Park South and parts of the southern park drives to move horse carriages off the street and into Central Park — for no good reason. The horses were fine on what city crash data indicate is a safe street, and their presence actually calmed traffic.
But moving the horses made them less visible. “Business is way down after dark,” says Christina Hansen, a driver. “Some of the night drivers are saying they will quit after Christmas. During the day, the new locations have created bottlenecks that the … pedicab vendors exploit to cut off our customers before they can reach us.”
Now, City Hall is pushing a bill that would change the rules that govern how horses can work in the heat. Right now, horses can’t work when the temperature reaches 90 degrees — a provision that has worked for decades.
On Tuesday, the council’s health committee voted to switch this to 80 degrees, coupled with a “heat index” that includes humidity. To a layperson, this sounds reasonable: It’s unpleasant to be out in humid weather. But for horses, it isn’t scientific. As one longtime vet, Harry Werner, testified in June, “there is absolutely no evidence-based data to support any lowering … There is simply no equine benefit to be achieved.” He added: “The current protocol is working well.”
Like most things, there is professional disagreement — but no consensus. The city didn’t send its horse vet to testify; instead, it sent a deputy commissioner of environmental health, Corinne Schiff, who forthrightly testified that she knew nothing about it and would get back to the council. “We’d like to come back to you with some more details.” We are still waiting.
As for whether the city had modeled how many business days the carriage industry might lose? “We don’t know how many days,” she said. “We don’t have a number.” The industry estimates that under the new measure, it would have been suspended 55 times in 2018, compared to the actual 34, and lost 21 full days, versus zero in 2018.
When it’s 82 degrees and rainy, it’s humid. But there’s no evidence — none — that carriage horses have suffered distress in such conditions. Moreover, the rules wouldn’t apply to police horses, indicating that there is no horse-health crisis.
Johnson may be making a practical calculation as the anti-small-biz bill goes to a full vote this afternoon: Satisfy the crazy anti-horse faction now, and they’ll be quiet during the 2021 primary season. NYCLASS hounded a 2013 de Blasio opponent, then-Speaker Christine Quinn, tarring her as an animal hater for not doing its bidding.
But NYCLASS won’t be quiet. Where politicians who are dimly paying attention to details sense a compromise, NYCLASS senses weakness.
Johnson is often a good contrast to de Blasio. But if he responds to the prospect of bullying with weakness, not strength, he will invite worse for himself in the future. He should do what the current mayor never did — show he isn’t afraid of a few nuts who think they can get their way with money and rough political horseplay.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images