Four Legs Are Good - NYCLASS

Four Legs Are Good

mayoral forum on animal rights, held at the Union Theological Seminary on Monday, offered the strange sight of New York politicians trying to outdo one another in gentleness and compassion. Five candidates sat beneath organ pipes, professing their love of four-legged creatures and easily eliciting cheers, claps, woos and hoots from an audience that seemed neither to know nor care how expertly it was being played.

7 May 2013

By The Editorial Board

mayoral forum on animal rights, held at the Union Theological Seminary on Monday, offered the strange sight of New York politicians trying to outdo one another in gentleness and compassion. Five candidates sat beneath organ pipes, professing their love of four-legged creatures and easily eliciting cheers, claps, woos and hoots from an audience that seemed neither to know nor care how expertly it was being played.

The main topic was the carriage horses that work in Central Park and Midtown and, through the advocacy of a real-estate executive, Steve Nislick, have plodded into the middle of the mayor’s race. But it was also about dogs, cats, pet stores, vegetarian diets and the animal-control system. There was a brief discussion of Canada geese.

Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, wasn’t there, but she was openly disdained. Her support of the carriage-horse industry has made her a prime enemy of Mr. Nislick’s anti-carriage organization, the forum’s host. The audience was first given a moment to call Ms. Quinn and chew her out. Then the four Democrats present — William Thompson Jr., Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Sal Albanese — and a Republican — John Catsimatidis — fielded questions. Together they gave a master class in showing a single-issue audience how sincerely it is loved.

Mr. de Blasio said the city should ban the carriages now and instead drive tourists around in electric cars. Like the others, he favored allowing older residents to keep pets in their apartments, reforming the city’s animal-control agency and adding animal shelters. Mr. Liu vigorously defended mixed-breed shelter pets and said “we’ve got to do much, much more” for animal rights.

Mr. Albanese tried gamely to bring up his real priorities — jobs and the middle class — but agreed that being humane to animals is what a good city does, and he told how a Chihuahua named Joey had kept his mother-in-law alive. Mr. Thompson reminded everyone that when he was the city’s comptroller he had exposed carriage-horse abuse. Mr. Catsimatidis spoke of the time his daughter’s cockatiel flew the coop and was rescued by firefighters. “You have to tell those birds you love ’em every day,” he said.

The forum offered a vision of a city where the two-legged and four-legged live in peace, though no one spoke for the pigeons and rats. It was a far cry from the days of Rudy Giuliani, whose sneering assault on a pet owner is legend (“This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness,” he told a man who called his radio program to complain about the city’s ban on ferrets).

Mr. Catsimatidis offered a compromise on carriage horses: keeping them, for the “ambience,” but only in Central Park. The horses would have to keep working — “There’s no free ride,” he said — but could retire to the zoo. His idea brought a barrage of catcalls, but the sometimes combative Mr. Catsimatidis did not fire back.

“Only a suggestion,” he said.

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