If historians debate whether Caligula’s apocryphal attempt to make his horse a consul of Rome signified serious mental illness or was just the emperor’s idea of a joke, contemporary New Yorkers should have no doubt that their new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is nuttier than a squirrel’s turd.
Upon taking office, de Blasio has made it his absolute highest priority “to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape in New York City.” Seemingly paraphrasing Richard Crenna’s Col. Trautman in the first Rambo movie, he flatly told a pre-inauguration press conference, “It’s over.” A hundred-plus years of tradition and a hundred-plus jobs (for humans) gone, just like that, because de Blasio believes that horse-drawn carriages “are not humane.” In their place will be “electric, vintage-replica tourist-friendly vehicles that provide jobs for current drivers.”
And New Yorkers thought that the days of bizarre, Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria-style edicts had finally ended when three-term Mayor Mike Bloomberg finally left City Hall. Among many other things, Bloomberg even banned food donations to homeless shelters because bureaucrats couldn’t verify the gifts’ salt content. What is it that perpetually outdated columnist Cindy Adams likes to say? "Only in New York, kids, only in New York."
As Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times (which endorsed de Blasio) writes, the former public advocate clearly “has a problem prioritizing. ... What makes him think this subject is important enough to occupy his first days in office?” That’s being way too kind. Even if de Blasio had solved stop-and-frisk outrages, the Mets' front-office problems, and Staten Island's image issues, this subject wouldn't be worth thinking about. For god's sake, Catherine the Great was never this fixated on horses.
New York is thriving like it hasn’t in decades, but the Big Apple is still riddled with wormy issues and is always only a few bad years from the fate of Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland. As the Times noted in its endorsement of de Blasio, 46 percent of New Yorkers “live in or near poverty” and another 50,000 live in homeless shelters. Pew Research points out that the city has funded just 70 percent of its pension obligations and a miniscule 4 percent of its retiree health benefits for public-sector workers. De Blasio’s plans for public schools are still stuck at the rough-draft stage (although all signs suggest a commitment to screwing over charter schools that are wildly popular with low-income parents but the bane of teachers unions and the educational establishment).
And yet here’s de Blasio, hell-bent on becoming the Simon Bolivar of the Mr. Ed crowd. In fact, he’s not just going to free our four-legged friends. He’s even pledged to “provide a humane retirement of all New York City carriage horses,” thus loading even more pension and health-care liabilities on his preferred beasts of burden, the city’s taxpayers.
Remember that stupid story Ronald Reagan always used to tell? The one about the boy happily searching through a pile of manure because with so much horseshit around, he figured “there must be a pony in here somewhere”?
If there’s one upside to de Blasio’s Caligulan first action as mayor, it’s that it will forestall the rest of his agenda for a few days or even weeks (here’s hoping). That agenda has been hailed as “boldly progressive” by the millionaire mensheviks at The Nation and is indeed heavy on jacking up minimum and living wages; increasing business and income taxes; embroidering the social safety net with more and more programs for the truly disabled and the conveniently disaffected; subsidies and straight-up protectionism for “New York City’s emerging industries”; and even a “tougher regulation” of “cruel and inhumane puppy mills.”
Which is to say that de Blasio’s “boldly progressive” agenda for the 21st century is stunningly similar to the sort of policymaking last seen in New York during the spectacularly failed reigns of John Lindsay and Abe Beame in the 1960s and '70s. If and when de Blasio’s revival of Fun City hits the fan, New Yorkers may just look back on January 2014 and hizzoner’s weird, laser-beam focus on liberating Swayback Sam and Prickley Pete from servitude as the last good time the city saw for a long, long time.