New York City’s strange political brawl over carriage horses

NEW YORK — A political battle is raging here over an iconic mode of transportation you might have used if you visited the city this winter: not the subway or yellow cabs, but Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages.

The fight centers on whether to ban the carriages out of concern for the horses’ welfare. But it has the trappings of a good old-fashioned political brawl: a well-funded network of activists, a powerful union, ambitious mayoral candidates and prime Manhattan real estate.

The strife has been building for a few years, and animal rights activists claimed a major victory in November when their ally, Democrat Bill de Blasio, won the mayoral election, thanks in part to the activists’ attacks on his primary opponent, Christine Quinn.

It’s unclear how aggressively de Blasio will pursue the carriage ban once he takes office in the new year. For now, the activists, aided by a deep-pocketed developer, are vowing to keep up the fight. But with their livelihoods potentially on the line, the carriage drivers aren’t backing down. And they’re getting some powerful backup from the Teamsters union, a political force in labor-friendly New York.

De Blasio aides declined to provide details about the mayor-elect’s work on the issue during the transition, saying only that he is committed to following through on the ban. He attended a fundraiser hosted by animal rights group NYCLASS earlier this month, reportedly receiving a bronze horse statue for his support.

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