More than a dozen City Council members or their representatives toured the Clinton Park Horse Stable on Sunday, to view for themselves how the 78 horses that reside there are kept and cared for.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for an end horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park, which prompted the horse carriage industry to respond by flinging wide open the doors to its stables.
"We are an open book," said Stephen Malone, spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York. Malone said he has also invited the mayor to tour the stables.
Councilman Daneek Miller, who was last year elected to represent District 27 in Queens, said he is concerned about preserving jobs for the carriage drivers, and was not quite ready to see a piece of New York City's history fade away for good.
"You need to be able to come in and understand whether or not this is an industry that needs to continue to exist and whether or not they bring something to the city and its vibrancy, and I think that the answer is yes," he said.
The carriage industry employs about 300 drivers, not all of them full-time.
Tony Salerno said he started driving a horse-drawn carriage in Sicily when he was 16. He said he has been a carriage driver in New York City for 30 years and now manages the stable on 38th Street.
Tony Salerno has been a carriage driver for more than 30 years in New York City. (credit: Yasmeen Khan)
"When you work 30 years with a horse you become a horse too," said Salerno, adding that drivers treat the horses as their own children.
"The horse? They love to stay in the city," he said. "It's nice, the city's very sexy now. Beautiful."
But animal activists have been working for decades to end horse-drawn carriages in the city, saying that subjecting the animals to urban life and city traffic is inhumane. The group NYCLASS wants the carriages replaced with electric antique cars.
Along with the mayor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito supports a ban. She has not indicated when the issue would be put on the Council's agenda. She previously sponsored a bill on the issue but has yet to re-introduce the legislation to the new Council.