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Times Square characters, tourists mixed before City Council vote

Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and Times Square

Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins, left, meet with characters and vendors in Times Square on April 5, 2016. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

Reaction to the controversial costumed characters in Times Square was mixed Tuesday, a day before the City Council is set to vote to get the ball rolling on keeping them in zoned areas.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Washington Heights and Inwood, and chairs the transportation committee, said he believes the bill will benefit the characters and pedestrians alike.

“We’re providing the support they need to make a living and support their family,” Rodriguez said about the characters, standing in Times Square on Tuesday. “New Yorkers and tourists that would like to enjoy walking through this area, they will be able to know that this area is ... safe for everyone — for pedestrians and anyone using this particular location.”

If passed, the bill will give the Department of Transportation the ability to regulate all pedestrian plazas, Rodriguez said. While the specifics of the multiple zones are still up for discussion, Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said the zones will be large enough to support all the characters and likely be outlined by something that is flush with the ground.

“The majority of the people who are working here are honest and hard working and are just trying to earn a living,” Tompkins said. “This new system will allow for rules that let people choose if they want approach a costumed character, but also in a way that is good for the costumed characters. There will be greater clarity of the rules of engagement there.”

But several characters working in Times Square on Tuesday disagreed, worrying that the zones will impair their ability to convince people to take a picture.

“I don’t agree,” said Abel Ramirez, 40, who usually collects about $5 per person in tips. “[It will] hurt business. What can I do?”

Miguel Lacama, 27, said he’s worried.

“My working is moving,” he said, adding that he often has to say “c’mon” to tourists. Dressed up as Mickey Mouse on Tuesday, he has been working as costumed character for about 3 years and has worn Elmo and Cookie Monster costumes as well.

But tourists hanging around Times Square were mixed, some annoyed by the overwhelming amount of characters and others just finding it funny.

“Zones would be better than it is now,” said Abbie Barnes, 22, who was visiting from England. “You avoid them anyway. You’d see that they’re in a zone and avoid it.”

But Sue Dundon, 50, said she enjoyed seeing them and even took a photo with them herself.

“If you come to a major city like new York, you’re going to run into that,” said Dundon, who was also visiting from England. “I think it’s quite funny, it’s part of the experience.”

Dundon said putting the characters in zones would no doubt mean fewer customers for them.

“They’re fine, they’re very friendly,” she said. “At the moment you stumble upon them and you feel a bit obligated. All they want is to make a bit of money.”

But posting a suggested amounts for tips, she said, would help.


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