Editorial: Find a way to control rogue Cookie Monsters
Elmo was busted last summer after reports that he was engaging in an anti-Semitic rant in Central Park. Cookie Monster was read his rights last weekend after police said he shoved a 2-year-old boy to the ground in Times Square. Spider-Man was popped on charges of assault and harassment last February after cops said he slugged a mom strolling through the Times Square area with her young son.
Now Big Bird is squawking to reporters that the negative publicity is "making us all look bad."
Big Bird may have a point. But please understand: None of the characters roaming through the tourist-rich areas of midtown are acting with permission from the companies that own their rights, according to Tim Tompkins, who runs the Times Square Alliance business group.
So the city has a tricky challenge. It must find a way to regulate characters who are plying the streets disguised as much-loved entertainment figures without violating their rights to free expression. City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, wants to see how other cities handle the problem. But a few points are fundamental.
Companies that license these characters need to work closely with agencies like the NYPD and city Department of Consumer Affairs. And the NYPD might want to step up its perennial fight against Times Square street scams.
While street performers have a constitutional right to express themselves in public, they don't have a right to do so as a character someone else owns or while impeding foot traffic in a neighborhood that has hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. They certainly don't have a right to behave like shakedown artists.
Often, say Times Square regulars, a person in costume greets parents with kids, poses for pictures, then demands a shockingly large tip. If the mark won't pay, things can get ugly. With 52 million tourists visiting the city each year, and with much of our economy hanging in the balance, it's not so wise to leave them at the mercy of masked grifters. So where's Superman? Hurry guy! And bring your license!