Times Square officials push costumed character regulation

Times Square officials push costumed character regulation

The bill would give the DOT the power to set guidelines for all pedestrian plazas.

Tim Tompkins, Times Square Alliance president, speaks at a news conference as he is joined by elected officials, Robert Burck, known as
Tim Tompkins, Times Square Alliance president, speaks at a news conference as he is joined by elected officials, Robert Burck, known as “The Naked Cowboy,” and others Monday, March 28, 2016. Photo Credit: iStock

Times Square leaders, elected officials and even the Naked Cowboy himself came together Monday in support of legislation that would regulate all of the costumed characters who have created a nuisance for visitors and pedestrians.

Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, the area’s business improvement district, said he has heard too many stories of people getting harassed by Elmo, Batman, and other performers and that it was time to address those complaints head on with the bill.

Tompkins read some of those woes posted on Twitter to emphasize how a few bad seeds are hurting the area’s atmosphere.

“I never screamed so piercingly loud and strong as when Times Square Elmo tried to hug me,” tweeted @LuRuSo. Another Twitter user, @weeumBasha, proclaimed “Times Square is much more pleasant without cars. Or Elmos.”

Under the bill, the city’s Department of Transportation would have the power to set guidelines for all pedestrian plazas in the city, including specific locations where costumed performers, promoters and other solicitors can stay.

The public would be allowed to comment about the locations but the DOT will consider several factors including the “availability of and need for open space in the surrounding areas” and the ability to deliver programming.

“It will not ban anyone from engaging in commercial activity legally, but it will put people in the zones and allow people to have a choice on whether to be approached,” Tompkins said at a news conference Monday.

A hearing for the bill is set for Wednesday at the City Council, and a vote is set for April 7.

Several of the performers have been arrested or given summons for harassing pedestrians, including the most recent incident where a Spider-Man performer allegedly kicked a mother who couldn’t provide him with a tip immediately.

Councilman Dan Garodnick, who represents parts of Times Square and is co-sponsoring the legislation, acknowledged that there are plenty of costumed characters who don’t create trouble and said this bill would help them.

“We need to protect the uniqueness and excitement of Times Square while bringing some order to the chaos,” he said.

One of Times Square’s longest running and famous street performers agreed. The Naked Cowboy said he supports the legislation and that it would help increase the quality of the performers.

“This is my obligation, that’s why I pledge my support for a little regulation,” he sang at the news conference.

Robert Clark, 43, who performs as Elvis in Times Square, disagreed with his fellow street performer. Clark said he would think about suing the city if it passed the bill since it would mean fewer people taking pictures with him.

“I don’t stand in New York all the time. I don’t like standing in one spot,” he said.

The union representing tour bus ticket solicitors wasn’t excited about the bill either and protested the news conference with colorful signs. Lenwood McKoy, the president of TWU Local 225, said his members need the flexibility to choose their own locations and maximize profits.

McKoy said his employees are being unnecessarily lumped with annoying costumed characters.

“We don’t see why we should be penalized because of someone else’s aggressions toward people. I’ve had it myself with these people,” he said.

Tompkins reassured that no one would lose their jobs if they are operating legally and said he and the other leaders would talk with Local 225 about their concerns.

The Times Square Alliance collected the top 10 tweets of this year made by people bothered by costumed street performers:

@nessalectric February 18:

When Elmo grabs your ass in Times Square, your childhood is immediately ruined. (Fist emoji)

@MalleyDeSanto February 10:

Nothing is scarier than being in Times Square and having 4 Elmo’s and 2 Olaf’s surround and entrap you

@_carolineotoole March 18:

*Tries not to get mauled by Elmo in Times Square during my commute for the 3rd time this week*

@gcoleman1138 February 22:

Those Times Square costume characters are real creepy when they try to give hugs for money.

@StStephsername February 18:

@AlexBoniello one time Times Square Elmo hugged me from behind and I screamed “if you touch me again you die” and ran away in tears

@mauracoyle February 1

Nothing ruins your childhood quite like watching creepy men dress up like Elmo and check out girls’ a**es as they walk by #TimesSquare

@cynicalstef January 2

Times Square is only a fun experience if you enjoy being groped by grown men in knockoff Disney character costumes

@NYCMomProbs on March 22

You go to Times Square and Elmo is the one you have to be wary of. #timessquare #NYC #Manhattan #kids #elmo (The user included a photo of a Times Square Elmo being placed in the back of a police car.) (Ann W. Schmidt)

Ivan Pereira and Ann W. Schmidt