At One Forum, Mayor’s Race Goes to the Dogs (and Cats and Horses)

For part of Monday afternoon, the candidates for mayor of New York City focused on wooing a bloc not commonly viewed as urban power players: animal lovers.

6 May 2013

By Andrew Grossman

At a forum hosted by the leading group opposed to carriage horses in Central Park, four Democratic hopefuls and one Republican spoke before a boisterous crowd of their own love for animals and the efforts they would take to protect them.

The crowd favorite seemed to be Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who won perhaps the event’s loudest applause when he loudly denounced the Central Park carriage horse industry.

“This is inhumane. It’s in front of our very eyes. We don’t say, ‘well look at that it’s inhumane but it’s so quaint and historic lets continue it,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

As some in the crowd rose to their feet, a woman shouted: “Tell ‘em, Bill!”

But other candidates had their moments, too.

The crowd cheered billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, the lone Republican onstage, when he essentially ignored public policy and delivered an opening statement that consisted of two stories of pet rescues. He began by saying “some people call me the cat man.”

The first was successful. His daughter’s cockatiel, he said, had flown its coop years ago and alighted on a nearby building. Catsimatidis called the fire department, which rescued the bird. It’s alive today.

The second was not. The Catsimatidis family cat—he said after the forum that it was all white and named Cottonball—died while Catsimatidis was working on the computer and his wife was watching television.

“My wife gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and rushed him to the hospital to try to keep him alive,” Catsimatidis said. “I just want to reflect the respect I have for animals.”

The audience applauded loudly. (They would later boo Catsimatdis when he said the Central Park carriage horses should remain because of the ambiance they provide.)

City Comptroller John Liu came out strongest in support of legislation that would ban pet stores from selling cats and dogs that don’t come from shelters—a measure adopted in other cities aimed at reducing the number of animals euthanized in shelters.

In the same answer,  Liu rejected the need for people to purchase pure-bred cats and dogs.

“We’ve rejected that notion for human beings,” he said, drawing loud cheers. “Why would we allow that to continue for dogs and cats, who aren’t that far from us?”

The group that sponsored the forum, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, has been one of  City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s loudest opponents.It helped fund ads against Quinn, who did not attend the event. The forum began with its executive director asking attendees to call Quinn’s office and ask her to support legislation to ban carriage horses, which she has opposed. Many in the audiences took out their cell phones and called numbers displayed onstage.

The candidates in attendance, who also included former city Comptroller Bill Thompson and former Council Member Sal Albanese, agreed on a few points. They said they would support mandatory fire sprinklers in pet stores and legislation requiring landlords to let people over the age of 62 live with their pets.

“There’s a therapeutic value to having our seniors live with their pets,” Thompson said. “It is something I support. It is the right thing to do.”


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