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Spring 2014 - Act•ionLine

NYC's First Mayor for Animal Rights

by Edita Birnkrant

 Bill de Blasio is ready to go to war for the rights of animals. His first battle is to make the horse-drawn carriage industry surrender and find homes for the equines who will be set free as a result. 

By the time this article reaches you, New York City will have its first mayor to pledge to create a humane city for animals—starting with banning horse-drawn carriages. We look forward to working closely with Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration in transforming policies for other animals also, including Canada geese and urban wildlife who have long been under assault, as well as shelter animals.

Our mayor understands that animal rights is more than just a special interest: It is an essential component of social justice. In a rousing and inspiring speech to animal advocates I attended weeks before he took office, Mayor de Blasio said: 

“Your time has come. Whether you’ve been fighting for animal rights and a more humane society, or if you’ve been fighting for social and economic justice, you have probably felt that you were in the political wilderness. Well, if we define the mainstream by our senior elected officials, then allow me to say as the Mayor-Elect of the largest city in the United States of America, that I am honored to be a part of your movement. I am honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in common cause.” 

EVOLVING POLITICALLY FOR ANIMALS

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rise from barely being noticed among the pack of mayoral candidates to winning the election was electric. His outspoken stance on animal rights issues, and his firm promise to get carriage horses off the streets and into sanctuaries, made the candidate shine among animal advocates. His commitment to his ideals showed in a CBS mayoral debate when de Blasio, questioned about his support for a ban on carriage horses, responded:

 “I have said very clearly we are ending horse carriages in New York City. There’s no place anymore for horse carriages in New York City, and by the way, major cities all around the world have been ending this because it’s cruel, because it’s inhumane and horses don’t belong in the middle of the busiest city in the world. So we will get this done and we will get it done quickly. I’m moving forward with this plan.”

His campaign brandished itself as the progressive choice winning him a landslide victory with more than 73 percent of the vote. 

The carriage horse issue became an improbably hot topic during the election—for the first time ever in New York City politics both candidates for mayor were vocal about planning to end the dangerous, cruel industry. Finally, after years of being ignored and mocked by the Bloomberg administration, the issue was getting the attention it deserved...

De Blasio’s previous tenure as a New York City Council member and Public Advocate did not distinguish him as a supporter of the carriage horse ban or other pro-animal policies. He’s since evolved his thinking, and said in his speech to animal rights advocates before he took office.

 “I didn’t start with a full understanding of these issues. I had some positions that were probably, forgive the phrase, a little more traditional, a little more narrow-minded. But the more I learned, the more I needed to demand change in our society.”  

Mayor de Blasio also credits his two teenage children, both vegetarians and animal rights supporters, for advancing his thinking on the issues. We applaud de Blasio for rethinking his stance, for challenging himself and embracing animal rights as a progressive issue.

FREEDOM FOR CARRIAGE HORSES ON THE WAY

Friends of Animals has led the movement to ban the heartless carriage horse industry, making it an issue that demanded attention. We helped draft New York State Senator Tony Avella’s ban legislation, still pending in the legislature, and we made sure that it included a crucial provision for each horse to be placed in a sanctuary once the ban goes into effect. We’ve spent years protesting, educating tourists with our flyers, holding rallies and press conferences, and lobbying politicians to pass this critical legislation.  

The new administration has a lot on its plate, and the carriage horse ban will take some time to implement. But de Blasio’s words in his recent speech about following through on his vow to institute a ban reassure us: 

“We’re going to end it! …Someday soon, we will stand together on the steps of City Hall to celebrate the victory of the legislation passing.”

 

Act•ionLine Spring 2014

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