Teamsters Transport Workers 100 Stop NYC Mayor de Blasio's Carriage-Horse Plan

Teamsters Transport Workers 100 Stop NYC Mayor de Blasio's Carriage-Horse Plan
Mayor de Blasio’s Carriage-Horse Plan Falters in City Council
Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to reporters outside City Hall on Thursday. He had pushed a bill that would have restricted carriage horses to Central Park. CreditBryan R. Smith for The New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s peculiar and controversial crusade to limit the Manhattan horse-carriage industry abruptly collapsed on Thursday, dealing a blow to his image at the expense of a political pursuit that many of his allies had hoped he would abandon long ago.

Despite personal pleas from Mr. de Blasio himself, the New York City Council canceled a vote on his bill to confine the industry’s horses to Central Park, a priority of wealthy donors that the mayor kept alive, despite scorn from labor unions, parks advocates, pedicab drivers and other groups.

The collapse immediately overshadowed Mr. de Blasio’s State of the City address, where he had planned to trumpet accomplishments and declare goals for the future. The speech, scheduled for Thursday evening to reach a wider audience, was part of an effort by City Hall to move past the unforced errors that have become an unwelcome hallmark of the mayor’s tenure.

Instead, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, found himself faced with defeat on another quixotic political quest of his own making.

A horse-drawn carriage in Central Park last month. CreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times
The collapse of the legislation came after the Teamsters union pulled its support on Thursday, saying its carriage-driver members believed the future of their industry would be endangered. The bill would have reduced the number of horses in the industry and devoted more than $25 million to renovating a Central Park stable as the animals’ new home.

Mr. de Blasio had lobbied lawmakers on the plan, occasionally in blunt terms, saying the deal was personally important to him, according to several people told of his conversations.

It was a significant use of political capital on an issue that was notably distant from Mr. de Blasio’s core mission of curbing inequality. But the horse carriages were a target of animal-rights activists, who spent about $1 million attacking his chief opponent in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, Christine C. Quinn, and who have continued to finance his endeavors.

The mayor, who pledged to ban the industry on Day 1 of his administration, said he believed that it was inhumane to make horses traverse Midtown streets. He also made clear that he wanted to show he could stick to his word.

But Mr. de Blasio had little support in his cause. Although the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, ultimately supported the compromise, the plan was met with wide skepticism.

Parks advocates questioned the use of parkland for a private concern. Pedicab drivers said they would be ruined by a clause in the plan barring them from operating in parts of Central Park. One labor union this week said it would consider a lawsuit to stop it.

In the end, Mr. de Blasio’s isolation on the horse plan was underscored, in ignominious fashion, during an extraordinary scene at City Hall on Thursday morning. The mayor arrived at 11:30 a.m. in his sport-utility vehicle to find a jubilant crowd of horse-carriage drivers, celebrating the death of his plan.

For about 15 minutes, Mr. de Blasio huddled inside the car, conferring with aides as reporters and television cameras gathered. When the mayor finally emerged, he pledged, defiantly, “to find a way forward.”

“There’s a lot of people who believe that it does not make sense to have horse carriages on the streets of Midtown Manhattan, and that having them in the park was a good idea,” the mayor told reporters.

The Teamsters, Mr. de Blasio said, “didn’t keep to their agreement — it’s as simple as that.”

The mayor’s office said that on Thursday morning the legislation had the votes needed to pass. But many council members never quite warmed to the mayor’s effort, and the backing of the Teamsters was seen as critical to secure support for a bill that would effectively eliminate some unionized jobs.

“There were many members, including myself, who had always said that the only way I could ever support a compromise was if the Teamsters were a party to and supported the deal,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat.

Once the Teamsters pulled out, Mr. Van Bramer added, “they knew they didn’t have the votes and they had to pull the bill.”

Some lawmakers had been prepared to support the compromise simply to move it off their plate, saying Mr. de Blasio’s plan had become a painful distraction.

“New York City politics is in danger of becoming just as much as a laughingstock as the presidential race,” Councilman Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, said on Thursday.

Because the Council rarely votes on measures that are not assured of passage, the bill’s removal from the calendar for a vote on Friday is tantamount to its defeat.

For Mr. de Blasio, the defeat is also a painful reminder of another legislative fiasco: his attempt to limit the expansion of the car-service app Uber. While the Council was deliberating, the mayor flew to Italy for an environmental conference at the Vatican; the bill died while he was returning to New York.

This past weekend, Mr. de Blasio spent four days in Iowa, where he knocked on doors as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Back home, opposition to the horse plan was growing, as prominent leaders from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Central Labor Council made calls opposing the legislation.

Some last-minute sweeteners by the administration, including a promise that the city’s tourism arm, NYC & Company, would promote the horse-carriage industry, failed to shore up union support.

“It’s a great day for the horse and carriages,” Ian McKeever, a carriage driver and spokesman for the industry, said on Thursday. “I’m from Dublin, so I’m having a pint.”

Reached on his phone on Thursday, Steven Nislick, the de Blasio donor and animal-rights activist whose group, Nyclass, pushed for a horse-carriage ban, hung up without a word. In a statement released later, he and his Nyclass partner, Wendy Neu, called the collapse of the deal “outrageous and wrong.”

Mr. Van Bramer, who as majority leader in the Council had been crucial to securing support for the deal based on the Teamsters’ participation, said it was time for the city to “move on” to other issues.

“This has gone on for too long, and I would say that there have been several attempts to do this,” he said. “They have not been successful, and we should move on to more pressing matters and more important issues that the people of the City of New York want us to focus on.”

For Mr. de Blasio, however, the quest continues.

“The people of this city know what I believe,” the mayor wrote in a statement, “and we will work toward a new path on this issue.”