NEW YORK—The costumed characters, naked painted ladies and bus tour ticket sellers who have made all of Times Square their stomping grounds could be restricted to specific zones under legislation being considered by the City Council.
The council’s committee on transportation is holding a hearing Wednesday morning on legislation that would allow the city’s Department of Transportation to create rules and regulations for pedestrian plazas like the ones in Times Square. The bill comes after scores of complaints in recent years over aggressive panhandling behavior, primarily from the costumed characters pushing onlookers for tips.
In the most recent incident, a man in a Spider-Man costume was accused of fighting with a tourist over a tip this past weekend, and was arrested on an assault charge. Other incidents in the past couple of years include another Spider-Man figure in the same area punching a police officer trying to prevent aggressive solicitation, and a man dressed as Cookie Monster attacking a 2-year-old child whose parents didn’t offer up a tip.
“Come to New York, duke it out with a superhero! Is that really what we want to be known for?” said Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, one of the bill’s sponsors, at an event in support of it on Monday.
Those supporting the bill, like Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance business group, say the legislation will allow for all the kinds of activities that take place in Times Square now, but in specific zones. So those who want to take a photo with a costumed character or buy a ticket for a sightseeing tour could still do that while those who don’t would be able to get through the area without the threat of being harassed.
“We are not saying that all the people dressed in costume behave this way but there is a consistent and ongoing issue that needs to be dealt with,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Times Square was filled with people in costume, from superheroes to cartoon characters. Among them was Evan Laws, in full Batman regalia. The 25-year-old from Queens said he was there almost every day, and on a good day can make anywhere from $100 to $150 in tips. But that’s dependent on him being able to move around, he said.
If he was forced to remain in one place, he said, that could cut what he makes in half. “That would be depressing,” Laws said.
The union that represents some of the bus tour ticket sellers also is opposed, saying that forcing sellers to remain only in one place would cause them to lose money, and that they were being punished for the actions of a few.
“I don’t see why we should be penalized because of somebody else’s aggression,” said Lenwood McKoy, president of Transport Workers Union Local 225, after the Monday press event, at which union members held up signs that read, “Don’t kill union jobs.”
Aliko Kouassi, selling bus tour tickets, said being able to move to where potential customers are is vital.
“It’s a part of the business: Here no good? I can move over there,” he said. “The people who move around make more money than the people who stay in one place.”