Ron Kuby Discusses New York's Horse and Carriage Trade

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview attorney Ron Kuby (RK) about the crises facing the horse-drawn carriage operators in New York City. WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio. Thanks to the TPQ transcriber. 

Radio Free Éireann

New York City

19 April 2014

(begins time stamp 21:00)

JM: And anybody's who's been listening to us over the years knows that we've been in support of the horse and carriage drivers out at Central Park. And that Mayor de Blasio, when he was running for office against Christine Quinn, stated the first thing he wanted to do – he made it a campaign issue during the campaign - that he wanted to get rid of the horse and carriage drivers at Central Park.

And anybody's that's now been listening to the AM radio – and I'll never forget– I was going up and down the dial while I was driving the cab and I heard someone talking – talking about an issue – and I said: Good, God! I must be on the FM dial – sounds like WBAI- I forget what the issue was...and lo and behold! It was Ron Kuby. Curtis and Kuby are back on WABC 770 AM every weekday from twelve to three o'clock.

And the great thing about the show is they're covering - not only do they cover city politics - between Curtis and Ron - a lot of times they're on the front pages of the papers and they are the issue of the day here in New York City. And it turns out that Ron now, after going down and meeting with everyone down at the stables - I don't know if that's a great place to be having meetings but that's where he had it - and he's now the lawyer for the horses. And the reason that I say that: it's the horses that will be slaughtered if Comrade de Blasio wins this one because there is nowhere to put the couple hundred horses that are going around Central Park. And Ron, I want to thank you for coming on. It's been a long time since you've been on 'BAI.

RK: Yeah, John, it's been a very long time. But it's great to be here. And it's great to be back. And I have to tell you - the stables are a lot cleaner than my office.

JM: And that just shows you – Ron – what do you think of the newspaper coverage? Particularly this week I'm looking at The Daily News here (reads headlines): Say No to Electric Cars – Sign a Petition.

The Daily News is going after it ... The New York Times, The New York Post ... I mean The New York Times actually had a letters page all in support of the horse and buggy guys down at Central Park. And it seems to be a very big issue but as you call him, Comrade de Blasio, seems to be sticking to his horses.

RK: Yeah, Comrade-Mayor de Blasio finds himself in a bit of a bind here. Way back when the universe was young and dinosaurs were running around with people there was a relatively unknown public advocate named Bill de Blasio who was trying to breakout of the Democratic pack that was going to be running for Mayor. He encountered a real estate/parking garage - very wealthy man named Steven Nislick. And Steven Nislick has made it a policy to try to close down the stables over on the West Side for years and years and years. It's speculated there's some very dear real estate interests there and Nislick's people themselves have talked about how valuable this property would be if only if they got rid of the horses, the carriages, the working class Irish drivers and built more condominiums there and how much revenue it would bring in.

And Steven has basically formed this organisation, NYCLASS (N-Y-Class) and bankrolled de Blasio's campaign. But more important, bankrolled the people who were out there in the streets with the “Anybody But Quinn” and blasting Chris Quinn and defining Chris Quinn as a tool of the very real estate interest that were supporting this campaign as well as a hater of animals. Of course I've seen Chris Quinn walking her doggies down the street – she seems to love animals - but be that as it may ....  Nislick financed de Blasio's rise to victory and now he wants the carriage horses and the carriage horse drivers - that whole industry - shut down. Three hundred people thrown out of work and lots of horses turned into dog food.

SB: Ron, this is Sandy Boyer.

RK: Hey, Sandy, how are you? Good to hear your voice again.

SB: The last time I saw you you were getting beat over the head with a skate bar over on 23rd Street.

RK: Yeah, that was bad. (laughs) I'm too old for street fights, Sandy. I discovered that when I got up to throw a punch but be that as it may.

SB: I find it very peculiar that the people who are talking about “animal rights” here are the people who want to send the horses to the slaughterhouses. That's a very peculiar version of animal rights to me.

RK: And it's troubling because so much of the opposition is based on deliberate, willful ignorance. Let's start with where these horses come from. (quips) Yeah, I know, they come from other horses. But originally there all down in Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) in Amish Country. And if you know anything about horses and the Amish it takes a lot of oomph to be an Amish horse. They have very, very rigorous lives and most horses just don't make the grade. What happens in Amish Country to the horses that don't make the grade? Well, sometimes they get adopted by family farms but let's face it - there's not so many of those around. They get adopted by the carriage horse drivers – and almost all of these horses came from Amish Country. And the horses that are not fortunate enough for either of those states are shipped to Canada or Mexico and turned into dog food. So providing work for the horses in the city helps maintain the lives of the horses.

Second, the horses are fantastically well-cared for. I mean, every horse has three medical certificates and licences on every stall door. You know look, I lived in Kansas for a while, horses aren't utterly alien to me. Their coats are sleek, their bellies are full, their eyes are clear, there are no sores or other abrasions on them. These are good-looking animals.

And, and, they get five to six weeks vacation - paid vacation presumably - every year. Each carriage has three horses but they only work two shifts. The third horse is rotated out to go to various farms in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts to get some little horsey rest and recreation - run around in the grass before resuming work.

JM: Ron, what has been the reaction at WABC when you take phone calls because during the week WNYC on The Brian Lehrer Show they were taking phone calls. They opened it up, they gave out the phone number and as the show went on they made a plea, they said: no one has called in to be against or banning the horses. We going to now clear a line for someone that's against the horses. And then Mark Simone over at WOR was tackling the issue. He had on a spokesperson from The Friends of Animals and within five minutes he threw her off the air because she started attacking Mark Simone on the air.

RK: (laughs and quips) Well, the same could be said of better people...

JM: Yes, but...

RK: ...alot of us have attacked Mark Simone on the air but be that as it may...

JM: Now you've covered the topic a lot over the past couple of months. What has been the reaction in the phone calls that you've been getting at ABC?

RK: Overwhelmingly and almost without exception people are in support of the carriage horse drivers, they're in support of the industry, they're in support of the horses and they oppose these Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reproductions, electric reproductions, of old-style cars. There are a very, very, very few people who wish to ban the horses and of those only a few of them are actually very militant about it. Look, I'm an animal lover. I ponder these questions sorta all the time. I have doggies. I see seeing-eye dogs, guide dogs, on the street. Are these dogs happy? I don't know! I mean on one hand they're tied to people. They're constantly...they never get a chance to play with other dogs on the street and they can't even pee or poop without somebody holding onto them. That doesn't seem like a happy life for a dog. On the other hand the dogs are working, they have a purpose, they have a function. Does labour help define meaning for a dog? I don't know! I'm not an animal psychologist. I have no idea what make doggies or horsies happy or unhappy. I mean I know horses tend to have long faces generally. Does that mean they're sad? I don't know.

JM: And Ron, the other thing: One of the main problems I have with NYCLASS is that they constantly demonstrating trying to spook the horses in Central Park when just ten blocks away you have the NYPD Mounted in the middle of Times Square where there was a car bomb planted on 45th Street, we've got the Naked Cowboy singing to the horses, we've got Elmo ripping-off the tourists and here in the middle of tens of thousands of people you literally have the mounted police and I'd like to see NYCLASS come down and start demonstrating over at 45th and Broadway or wherever the horses are up and down Broadway and try to spook the horses there. These horses are actually used to charge into crowds at demonstrations but they like to go the celebrity route – and it's Central Park – and it's across from The Plaza – I mean it's just the hypocrisy!

RK: Of course. You are not getting rid of the NYPD Mounted Unit. They have a lobby. They have a union. They have wild popularity. They're a great tourist attraction and you're quite right - in terms of things that horses don't like to do? Horses do not like to trample on people. We know this because we've been in demonstrations where horses have actually shied away from stepping on people even risking their own hooves as it were and really have to be driven into crowds in order to step on people. We know these things. We know horses don't like fire. There's a few things we do know and yet nobody protests the police horses.

SB: Ron, let's get back to the realpolitik here because it seems to me that de Blasio has kind of punted he's now saying: well I was going to do it in the first week he was in office... well maybe not...maybe it'll be sometime this year ... And now he's been saying: maybe it's up to The Council, though he has a little bit of influence with The Council - What's really the odds on defeating this thing?

RK: You know de Blasio started out by announcing he was going to ban it on his first day and at some point somebody told him he doesn't have the authority to do that. Which he doesn't. So he said he was going to turn it over to City Council to draft a bill. Extinguishing the livelihood of three hundred people, all of whom who have licences to do what they're doing, is not an easy thing to do legally. It may not even be possible to do legally. So there are people in the City Council who are trying to draft a bill to ban the carriage horses. It's proving much more difficult than it sounded in rhetoric. And at this point Comrade-Mayor de Blasio just doesn't have the votes in the City Council to pull this off. So it's been sorta kept quiet – yes - the bill is being drafted – who knows when it's going to come to the floor – it may take the end of the year ... But I don't think he's going to let this thing quietly die. You know, on the other hand, his big guy, Steve Nislick, who's promoted all of this, just the other day threatened to punch a female The Daily News photographer in the face because she was asking him questions about his little toy car at The Javits Center. And de Blasio was forced to answer that yesterday.

And it was pretty vile. It was a very misogynistic comment made in a really ugly way. Everybody can see it. Of course it's online as everything is these days. And so I don't know what Nislick's message is: horses shouldn't be working and neither should women I guess. But it was pretty ugly and he may have doomed himself. It may be that de Blasio says to him: Look, why don't we do this: why don't you take you next half a million dollars and instead of devising a prototype electric car set up a “no-kill” shelter for doggies or provide cats with birth control or condoms or something like that.

JM: You know Ron, and that brings me up about the prototype that he wants to sell to the horse and buggy guys. We had the auto show that's going on and I was very disappointed. Danny Dromm was up there yesterday and I heard him on the radio – but he was talking about it he goes - what I want to do now is compensate the drivers – now this is a legitimate business that's making money. You had Mayor Bloomberg bring in this bike sharing programme, which is in the hole for tens of millions of dollars and they're going to try and keep that floating, but here you have a legitimate, money-making business in our capitalist society and Danny Dromm is going: well, we're going to have to find a way to compensate the drivers as they close down a legitimate, money-making business!

RK: Yeah and Dromm has been really in the forefront in the City Council of trying to push this thing. And you know, Sandy and John, it almost becomes arguing religion for people. If your fundamental belief is that horses are unhappy: on the city streets, pulling carriages, getting their noses stroked and petted by children, having people oooh and aaah around them being fed carrots and yes, pulling a load - if you believe that is an unhappy life for a horse ... and you believe you know what will make a horse happy – once you're convinced you know those things it's very difficult to have this conversation with somebody!

SB: And Ron, what happens to these horses when they get too old to work? Too old to keep pulling tourists around?

RK: They have an actual beautiful retirement home, a series of retirement homes, I mean the good thing about this is that the drivers own the horses. These are not city property. They've been purchased by the drivers. And so there are a series of farms, including a lovely one in Massachusetts, where the horses go when they retire. I actually have some of the photographs on the Curtis and Kuby Facebook page which people can “like” where the nice horsies go to retire usually the age at the age of thirty, twenty-five-thirty or so, and they live out their lives in comparative bliss.

Or not. Again, I don't know if a horse is happier doing nothing all day except eating hay and frolicking with other horses. Or whether a horse is happier doing work. I know from an anthropomorphic perspective I enjoy a few days in the country every year but primarily I love to work. I define myself through my labour both as a lawyer and a talk show host. I believe in the dignity of labour and I believe that labour gives life meaning. Does that apply to a horse? I don't know! Where is Mr. Ed when we need him?

JM: Now Ron, you have represented alot of people throughout your career here in New York City but I think it's great that you're now representing horses - who you could say are on Death Row with Comrade de Blasio trying to put an end to them - how do you see this playing out now? What has been your advice to the horses? Do you speak directly to them?

RK: I talk to the horses and I tell the horses: Hold the line. Continue the struggle. ¡No Pasarán! And the horses seem to like that. The drivers recognise they're in a good position here politically. There's this tremendous groundswell of support throughout the city. It makes money. The tourists love it. New Yorkers love it. It's a little touch of old-time New York. Nobody except a tiny handful of crazies and real estate interests really opposes this. No offence if anybody in your audience consists of that tiny handful of crazies. You know, it's okay to be part of a tiny handful of just shouldn't be part of making policy. They've had some great celebrity endorsements including of course Liam Neeson. And you know there's a class element to this as there is in so many other things. The drivers and the stable hands and the workers are working class people many of them are members of the Irish working class, or Irish-American working class but not all of them - some of them are African-American and Latino.

And the people who want to take away their horses and their livelihood tend to be members of the one percent or at least are funded by the one percent and the bourgeoisie.

JM: Well, Ron, thanks for coming on WBAI and we are going to definitely stay on top of this and we're going to have you on from time to time giving updates and giving us the progress reports between you and your four-legged clients over there on 52nd Street and Central Park.

RK: Thank you very much. I'm always very happy to talk with both of you, the 'BAI audience and of course I'll pass on to the horses your strong and consistent support.

JM: Thank you! And that will be well appreciated. You're listening to Radio Free Éireann and as Ron was giving out a website if you want to see some of the pictures I've been putting up about the horse drawn carriages and the NYPD Mounted go to Cabtivist on Twitter or Facebook. That's c-a-b-t-i-v-i-s-t. And I've been going on Ron's Facebook page and putting up some of the pictures.

 (Ends time stamp 39:39)