In response to scared tourists and annoyed locals, the council's
law would restrict the characters to a handful of designated zones,
each about the size of a city bus, where they could solicit tips for
posing for photographs. Other areas of the Times Square pedestrian
plaza would be off limits.
The legislation comes after complaints about aggressive solicitation
of money and other behavior in the famed midtown Manhattan
crossroads by the dozens of Elmos, Spidermen and other mascots who
set up shop there.
In the past two years, there has been a proliferation of costumed
characters who pose for pictures with tourists in return for tips in
Times Square. Once known for its sex shops, cavernous movie theaters
and street crime, the area has been a family-friendly tourist
attraction since the 1990s.
But scattered incidents of violence and allegations of aggressive
behavior by some characters have raised concerns that the area could
regress, pushing politicians to call for new restrictions. The
appearance of topless women with painted bodies raised particular
concern about the area's "family" atmosphere being compromised.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has voiced support for new
restrictions, would not say whether he would sign the bill.
The workers say the bill unfairly targets them and could hurt their
access to tourists.
Keith Albahae, who works as a green-haired Joker character, told a
hearing last week that he and his colleagues "do not harass people
or block traffic," adding that some tourists complain when they
realize they are supposed to tip a few dollars for photos.
[to top of second column]
To the Times Square Alliance, the business association that helped
write the bill, it is a quality of life issue.
"It really is a compromise to recognize that there are people
earnestly earning a living, but also that there's been some real
problems that just like any other commercial activity you need to
regulate it," said Tim Tompkins, president of the alliance, said in
an interview Wednesday.
In 2015, more than 300 costumed characters, topless women and ticket
vendors worked in Times Square, police said.
Since January, at least 16 of the workers have been charged with
crimes, including assault, aggressive soliciting, forcible touching
and grand larceny, according to police. Last year, there were 15
(Reporting by Marcus E. Howard; Editing by Bill Trott)
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