The bad rap the cartoon characters in Times Square have gotten after a spate of arrests are leading performers to organize to get a better reputation with tourists and police.
More than 100 performers gathered at a union-affiliated organization, La Fuente, yesterday to form a group called New York City Artists United for Smiles.
Organizers and performers say they want to develop better practices and educate newer workers on how to interact with tourists. There is also consideration of devising shifts during the day and in different locations.
"Everybody works together for the good service for the tourist, to entertain the tourist," said Fernando Riano, 46 of Staten Island, who performs as Statue of Liberty.
Many of the performers are immigrants, whose English is limited.
Police officers have been handing out fliers in Times Square telling tourists that photos are free and tipping is optional. That has made hustling for tips even more difficult.
Sisi Paredes, a 41-year-old living in Staten Island who wears a Spider Girl outfit, said she witnessed on Saturday police officers discouraging tourists from paying an Elmo and Hello Kitty for photographs.
"They give you $10 for the picture they like it so much, the picture, and [the police] say 'no, give them nothing,'" Paredes said. "I think it's not fair. It's our job" to work with tourists.
Lawmakers and Mayor Bill de Blasio are considering a licensing system to regulate the costumed characters after a spate of bad behavior, including the infamous anti-Semitic Elmo; the arrest of Junior Bishop, who allegedly punched a cop while performing as Spider Man; and another Spider Man charged with aggressive solicitation and arrested with three other men in costume. The NYPD did not return request for comment.
Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance said licensing regulations from the city would force out the performers who shove and harass tourists.
"You never need to have regulation for the businesses that are honest," he said. "You need it for the businesses that are dishonest and not doing well by consumers."
Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, however, said the Naked Cowboy and naked women wearing body paint and underwear are left alone to take tips from tourists. She said performers this month who have attended two meetings at La Fuente have felt their livelihoods are at risk.
"At this point, they're interfering with contact and relationship that is between the character and the tourist," she said of police officers. "I'm not sure why the NYPD has to go after them so aggressively."
John Ruales, a 17-year-old high school student in Jackson Heights who dresses as Spiderman, said he wants standards for performers to improve their reputation.
"Since one character do a bad thing," he said, "it affects everybody."