Councilmember Tony Avella was out in front of O’Flaherty’s Ale House on West 46th St. around noon today. No, he hadn’t been drinking his lunch (though he did look a little flushed). The 2009 mayoral candidate was there to denounce recent threats of violence against the bar, thought to have come from supporters of the horse-drawn carriage trade.
Avella, who has proposed a bill to shut down these carriages in New York, said that after the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages scheduled a fundraiser at O’Flaherty’s, unidentified members of the carriage trade called to tell the manager they’d bust his place up if he didn’t cancel.
O’Flaherty’s backed down, but the Bayside Democrat will not. He defiantly proclaimed that “this industry is going to be put out to pasture” if he has anything to say about it.
To put an end to the “inhumane treatment and risk of serious injury or death” to both horses and people, Avella’s pending bill would “repeal all provisions within the administrative code that authorize the operation of horse-drawn carriages within New York City,” according to his website.
Avella has been much covered for his campaign to spare the horses — one recent story had PETA celebrity Pamela Anderson sending him flowers, which carriage supporters criticized as a “violation of ethic rules” — and he is probably the most visibly anti-animal-cruelty candidate in city history.
Elizabeth Forel, a spokesman for the Coalition who appeared with Avella, expressed displeasure with O’Flaherty’s for caving in (the Coalition’s website still lists O’Flaherty’s as the site of their October 14 event), but Avella declined to blame the bar: the responsibility, he said, “falls on the carriage industry.”
Citing other reports of violent and intimidating behavior by members of the industry, Avella hypothetically asked Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn — both defenders of the carriage trade — “These are the people you supported? You’re supporting these bullies?”
As to the Mayor’s claim that removing horse-drawn carriages would hurt tourism, Avella said, “You gotta be kidding me. Someone from the midwest or a foreign country isn’t going to New York because he can’t get a ride in a carriage?”
We asked Avella about the recent carriage accident in Brooklyn, in which a driver was thrown onto a Town Car. “That proves the point,” he said, “that carriage horses are no longer appropriate for city traffic. Here they were in a less-trafficked area of Brooklyn.” When drivers are trained, said Avella, they’re “made aware of the conditions that can cause a horse to balk, including loud noises, like a car horn, — things that happen every day on every block.”
Avella asked, “The driver, seriously injured, refused medical attention or to speak to the media — why is that? Obviously there’s a reason,” he said.
Asked where the Council bill is now, Avella said “I’m lobbying the councilmembers about it.” A turnaround by the Mayor would help, as “the Speaker goes along with the Mayor on every occasion.” To that end, Avella looks to increase public awareness and pressure. The Coalition, he claimed, “has a table in Central Park every weekend,” and so far has 30,000 petition signatures against the carriages.
The few hundred carriage drivers of New York presumably feel differently about all this, but the Horse & Carriage Association of New York hasn’t returned our (admittedly late on Friday) call.