Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would consider eliminating the Times Square pedestrian plaza to drive away the tip-hustling topless women and costumed characters who congregate there, but the idea quickly came under fire from plaza supporters as an overkill solution.
De Blasio was speaking about a suggestion made earlier Thursday by Police Commissioner William Bratton, in an interview with WINS radio, about removing the plaza, which stretches for five blocks north of 42nd Street on Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
"I'd prefer to just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was," Bratton said. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the first plaza there in 2009 from what had been traffic lanes.
De Blasio said Bratton's idea "will be considered." He added: "That's a very big endeavor, and like every other option comes with pros and cons."
Bratton and City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod are leading a mayoral task force that will examine how to combat the Times Square nuisance issues and report back by Oct. 1.
The group also will consider whether the city should devise new laws to drive the hustlers and characters away. The state's top court in 1992 ruled that women have a right to be topless in public.
Reaction to de Blasio from the plaza's backers was swift.
Tim Tompkins, president of Times Square Alliance, a business group, said: "Sure, let's tear up Broadway. We can't govern, manage, or police our public space, so we should just tear them up. That's not a solution. It's a surrender."
The top spokesman for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the chamber supports keeping the plazas. So do the council members whose districts meet at Times Square, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer. But the council spokesman conceded the mayor has the authority to remove the plaza on his own.
De Blasio Thursday also took an oblique swipe at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who a day earlier warned Times Square was starting to resemble its "bad old days" before a cleanup in the 1990s.
"Let's not believe the hype here," de Blasio said. "The fact is Times Square today is a safe place."
As a mayoral candidate in 2013, de Blasio put out mixed messages about pedestrian plazas -- once calling them "wildly successful" for furthering a "livable streets agenda" but also saying "the jury's out" on whether the good justifies the traffic impact.
His 2013 Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, said Thursday that closing the plaza is the right move to "rid the area of masked pests and painted breasts."
At the plaza Thursday, Larry Herzog, 63, of Little Neck, Queens, said while the topless women aren't "appropriate," he relished being able to sit and relax there.
"This is fantastic," he said. "You get to sit down, people come over to you and talk to you for a moment."
With Alison Fox