Editorial: Rein in NYC costume solicitors
Frequently asked questions by New York tourists:
What are we supposed to do when Elmo jumps ugly with us? Or when Spider-Man suddenly flies off the handle? Or when Cookie Monster tries to take a bite out of our wallets? Is it customary here for a beloved fictional character in a mean growl to demand, say, $20 for a photo we innocently shot of him?
Unfortunately, it often is.
Such behavior is happening with increasing frequency in the tourist-teeming neighborhoods of New York City -- especially around Times Square. It needs to be outlawed.
But there are complications.
Bear in mind -- first -- that anyone can walk into a store, buy a Mickey Mouse ensemble or Big Bird outfit and promptly strut their stuff.
And then remember the First Amendment, which means you can say pretty much what you want to say to just about anyone. And if your manner of dress and street presence approach what some might call artistry, the law's most likely on your side.
But the good news for visitors who feel as if they've been victimized not by an artist but in a classic shakedown is that Councilman Andy King of the Bronx has drafted a bill that would require the city's Department of Consumer Affairs to license costumed buskers.
He says he's not just acting on behalf of adults, but for kids who are overwhelmed and scared when "four to five costumed characters approach them to make a dollar."
If nothing else, King's licensing measure would give the city leverage to stop grifters from working in disguise. And it would help the NYPD identify con artists or sexual molesters who commit crimes in costume.
Politicians are also urging the corporations that created some of the most widely counterfeited characters to aggressively use copyright laws to keep impostors off the streets.
Tourism is a cornerstone of our economy -- with nearly 54 million visitors in 2013 and $38 billion in revenues. We can't let Cookie Monster and his pals stop that show.