Whoa New York Times, You Need to Hold Your Horses!

By Russell Simmons
November 1, 2013
Huffington Post

I have been a loyal supporter of Bill de Blasio for a long time. I have known him for years, but when he met with me in the spring of this year about his New York City mayoral campaign, one of the main points of our conversation was about animal rights. As a proud New Yorker, I am ashamed that we have allowed for the abuse of horses who serve as the "motors" for the carriages in Central Park. When I mentioned to Mr. de Blasio that I would consider supporting his campaign if he would ban this kind of abuse, he immediately said he was fully on-board to rid New York City of this horrendous practice. For this and many other reasons, I have been proud to have endorsed his progressive campaign to become the next mayor of our great city.

Apparently, petitioning public leaders in order to advocate for special causes and implement new policies -- otherwise known as the democratic process -- is now known by a new name: zealotry. I am baffled by the line that reads in the New York Times endorsementfor Bill de Blasio, that reads "Mr. de Blasio seems to be a good listener, though our hearts sink when we see him listening too attentively to interest groups like anti-horse-carriage zealots...." I have never been called a "zealot" in my life, and for all of us who care deeply about the abuse of animals, we are insulted by this New York Times attack. How and why does it do this, exactly? Unfortunately, we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. Although we appreciate the endorsement of Mr. de Blasio, we would like to put you on notice, that animal rights groups are more powerful than you think.

My question for you, New York Times, is how can you allow such strong voices such as corporations that promote war, destroy the environment, lobby for assault weapons, tax shelters for the rich, sell poisonous foods to people, the prison industrial complex that locks up innocent people, etc., and yet take issue when those that fight for animals give them a voice? It's wrong-headed and small-minded. I'm proud to be a part of the community that will ultimately ensure Bill de Blasio gets into office as our next mayor -- the nation's first ever animal rights mayor.

First, some background. NYCLASS, (the animal advocacy group at the receiving end of theTimes' wanton and indiscreet name-calling) was started in 2008 with a single goal in mind: to get these easily spooked horses out of dangerous Midtown traffic. Horse-drawn carriages are an inhumane, outdated form of transportation that, according to the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States, have no place in an urban setting, where they are at risk of colliding with cars and buses. Don't get us wrong, we fully understand and appreciate the long and romantic tradition these carriages are steeped in: long rides through Central Park on Christmas Eve; a romantic evening spent with a loved one under the snow covered canopy of a Victorian-age coach. But is maintaining this ode to sentimentality a sufficient reason to continue the usage of horse drawn carriages? At what cost is this tradition kept alive?

New York City's horse carriage industry is comprised of 200 horses that work nine hours a day in rain or shine, snow or summer humidity. The horses a forces into a miserable "nose-to-tailpipe" existence, navigating through congested, bustling streets -- a dangerous and potentially lethal obstacle course for even the most nimble of travelers. Horses are easily spooked and as a result, there were more than 20 accidents in the last two years on New York City streets.

In 2008, a group of New Yorkers finally decided to take a stand against this. New York City is the financial epicenter of the world, a global standard-bearer for innovation, and one of the world's cultural trend setters. And yet, something as obvious and easily achievable as promoting the humane treatment of animals is perpetually thrown under the rug. Christine Quinn was one of the biggest perpetrators of this.

Christine Quinn's offenses extended beyond her refusal to ban horse drawn carriages in favor of environmentally clean and cost-effective electric antique replica tour cars proposed by NYCLASS. During her speaker-ship, she refused to put nearly every proposed animal rights bill to the Council floor for a vote. The common sense "sprinkler bill," which mandates that all pet shops install live saving fire-fighting sprinkler and alarm systems, went nowhere. A Queens and the Bronx still do not have a single full-service animal shelter because she overturned the law requiring animal shelters in every borough. These are the reasons why over 110,000 New Yorkers joined the NYCLASS coalition.

NYCLASS did what every successful political movement has done from environmentalists to housing advocates: We organized a constituency of humane voters. We registered animal lovers to vote, we organized phone banks, we held a public forum for candidates and we ran an endorsement process. Raising public awareness of relevant issues, garnering grassroots support and holding leaders accountable for their actions is not zealotry or fanaticism. It is the very definition of open democracy.


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