"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was winter of despair..." --- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 1859
Democratic NYC mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio's favorite stump-speech catch phrase has been, "Right now in New York, we are living a tale of two cities." The obvious Dickensian reference is the lead-in that de Blasio uses again and again to highlight his assertion of - and alleged concern for - both wealth and power disparity among the NYC populace in 2013.
But just how genuine is that concern for the "little guy"- the concern professed by de Blasio for those among us who he alleges are being pushed around and denied their rightful seat at NYC's bountiful table?
If Bill de Blasio's position on the tiny and beleaguered NYC carriage industry is any indication, the answer to that question is dubious, at best.
Not only has de Blasio pledged to "shut down the carriage industry" on his "first day in office" (later tweaked to "first week" in office, after snorts of derision in the media that a NYC mayor may have better things to concern himself with on the first day at the helm), but he has done so at the behest of big money politico backers.
Yes, so very Dickensian of Mr. de Blasio - but not in the way he wishes to portray.
The carriage industry is a colorful, rich portrait of working class NYC; nowhere will you find a better cross-section of people who represent that demographic. The approximately 130 carriage owners and drivers are the very definition of "diversity;" newly arrived émigrés from Russia and Haiti, first-generation Americans of Irish and Italian descent, who took over the business from their fathers before them, as well as folks who hail from or whose lineages can be traced to Israel, Turkey, Poland, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Belgium, Mexico, England, El Salvador, Grenada and Canada. There are men and women, gay and straight. There are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. There are folks of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, and those who adhere to no faith. There are people in their twenties, and folks who were driving back when Robert F. Wagner was mayor. In the great American tradition of generational upward mobility, sons and daughters of the old-timers have worked their fathers' carriages while putting themselves through school, with several of them having gone on to work in medicine, law, Wall Street, and as entrepreneurs in their own right.
The one thing that all the members of this disparate group have in common is that all of the 130 hard-working people have families. The centerpiece of de Blasio's campaign has been a pledge to the working families of this city to increase their economic opportunities. So why are are the carriage business families being singled out by the mayoral hopeful, not only as not being worthy of inclusion in his promise, but to actually be attacked, taking what is rightfully theirs away from them?
The horses, drivers, owners, stables, and carriages themselves routinely pass inspection by the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement division, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and the Department of Health. The buildings in which the horses live are outfitted with high-pressure fire sprinklers, pro-actively installed and paid for by the carriage owners, in the absence of any law stating they must have them. Every carriage horse in NYC occupies a box stall, big enough for the horse to turn around and lie down comfortably. Each stable has 24/7 stablehands. Horses have mandatory twice yearly veterinarian exams, which is increased to four times a year if the horse is given his mandatory-by-law five week vacation outside of New York state, and most of them are vacationed in Pennsylvania. High quality feed, grooming, shoeing, steady, moderate exercise necessary for physical and mental health, and the affection and attention of drivers, passengers, and passersby -- the NYC carriage horse has it all.
Safety is also a non-issue. The industry's safety record is unsurpassed when compared to just about any other horse enterprise, or even to any other mode of transportation in NYC. 68 carriages going back and forth 4X a day on two different shifts, approximately 300 workable days a year, translates into over SIX MILLION trips in traffic over the last three decades. In those thirty years, there have been exactly three equine deaths due to collisions with motorized vehicles, and precisely ZERO human fatalities. In a city where pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorized vehicle occupants die every single day in traffic accidents, this is truly a remarkable record.
Perhaps most importantly, since 1981 not one horse-drawn cab owner or driver has been convicted of a cruelty charge. That means that even with all of the intense scrutiny by the various agencies over three decades - including the ASPCA whose official stance is to close down the industry, which means that they would especially be on the lookout - not ONE instance of cruelty has ever been adjudicated.
So with all of these facts weighing heavily in favor of the folks who operate this iconic, historic, and delightful business, just what reasons does Bill de Blasio give for his zealous pronouncement to shutter it forever?
He doesn't - other than the vague and obviously unfounded accusation that it is "cruel."
So, in keeping with de Blasio's belief that modern day New York is analogous to the "two cities" in Dickens' metaphor, why would the good folks of the carriage industry constitute a "third city", one that is neither the oppressive elite or the oppressed working class, worthy of relief? That intriguing question will be explored in Part II of this report.
In the meantime, I would like to leave the reader with a little profound irony regarding Bill de Blasio's choice of literary reference:
In Dickens' novel, the villainous Marquis St. Evrémonde orders his coachman to speed up, recklessly careening through the crowded streets of Paris. The carriage mows down and kills the child of a peasant named Gaspard. The Marquis throws a coin from his carriage to Gaspard, a cruel and horrifyingly insensitive compensation for his loss. As the Marquis's coach drives off, the coin thrown to Gaspard is thrown back into the coach.
The irony of a self-proclaimed "man of the people" such as Bill de Blasio, regarding the carriage business, having more in common with the imperious and despised Marquis rather than with the social justice themes of this Dickens masterwork is something Mr. de Blasio may want to consider.
And it is my understanding that no amount of "coins" thrown to the folks in the carriage industry from de Blasio's reckless vehicle will sway their will to see justice done.