BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
A City Council bill to ban Central Park’s famous horse carriages has captured the attention of officials on this side of the East River and sparked intra-party rebuke.
With the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been championing the carriage ban since his candidacy, a group of council members including Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) introduced a bill to dissolve the carriage industry and transition industry workers into other fields.
The issue has since proved extremely polarizing, while powerful groups have stepped in on both sides – among others, the AFL-CIO union coalition opposes the ban, while PETA, NYCLASS and the Humane Society support it.
Although they have no official say in the Council bill’s future, a number of Federal and State level officials in Queens have also joined the push against it and their backlash has magnified a couple of dividing lines within the Democratic party.
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-East Elmhurst) took to Facebook last week to challenge the progressivism of the bill’s architects, most of whom are members of the Council Progressive Caucus.
He wrote, “How progressive is it to VOTE union workers out of a job?”
In a conversation with the Queens Tribune, DenDekker said, “[carriage industry workers] have jobs, they have homes, they have children going to school, and now all of a sudden the New York City Council is just going to do away with their whole career. This progressive caucus that is in there should understand how important working men and women are to the City.”
Political strategist Doug Forand of Red Horse Strategies said, “I do think what you’re going to see are a lot of progressive alliances get strained as people sort of struggle [with this issue].”
A “core underlying conflict” within the progressive movement might be coloring officials’ reactions to this bill, Forand explained.
“Social progressivism versus economic progressivism – what it comes down to is there is no single answer,” he said. “Which is more important, preserving jobs or standing up for socially progressive values? Well, both are important.”
This tension over the progressivism of the carriage bill can even be seen reflected outside of the political sphere. A pro-ban advertisement from PETA, slated for Flushing, features the actress Anjelica Huston with the words, “It’s surprising to me that a city known for its progressive spirit still allows this cruel and dangerous tourist trap.”
Besides Dromm, Queens members of the Progressive Caucus include Councilmen I. Daneek Miller (D-Saint Albans), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).
Even within this group, the carriage ban has not prompted unified responses. As chair of the civil service and labor committee, Miller stands firmly on the other side of the fence from Dromm, against the bill on the grounds that it hurts workers. Meanwhile Richards, Van Bramer and Ferreras have yet to determine a position, according to their spokespersons.
Backlash from other officials along the political hierarchy demonstrates party tensions that have existed since de Blasio’s candidacy for Mayor. Namely, opposition from U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), head of the Queens County Democrats, marks one in a series of rifts between de Blasio and party establishment.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) framed the pro-ban movement purely in political terms, saying in a statement, “we are not going to be fooled by those who say that banning horse-drawn carriages is an animal rights issue.”
“This is about political promises and money,” Crowley continued, referring specifically to the participation of NYCLASS, an active political donator that was reportedly recently fined for campaign finance violations, she later explained to the Queens Tribune.
Other council members who have voiced opposition to the bill include Councilmen Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).
Dromm could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.