Regulations proposed for Times Square characters

Updated at: 09/08/2014 4:21 PM
DEEPTI HAJELA

(AP) NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — A City Council member said Monday he's proposing legislation that would regulate Elmo, Minnie Mouse and the other costumed characters who pose for photos with tourists in Times Square, requiring them to be licensed, wear photo IDs and keep their distance from subway entrances and stores.

Councilman Andy King said the impetus for the legislation, which he plans to introduce at a Council meeting on Wednesday, was a string of incidents involving costumed characters harassing or assaulting people, including a July altercation in which a man dressed as Spider-Man hit a police officer who had told a woman she didn't have to pay for a photo.

"This bill is strictly about safety in the city of New York," said King, a Democrat from the Bronx.

The legislation would require anyone wanting to work as a costumed character in Times Square to pay a fee to the city for a two-year license and undergo a criminal background check, King said. Once someone has a license, he or she would have to wear a photo ID badge at all times, King said.

"If you do come out here, we just want to know who you are," he said.

Characters would still be allowed to solicit tips for photos but not in an "aggressive" manner, he said. The rules would also spell out how far characters would have to stand from subway entrances, stores and streets. Violations would lead to fines, he said.

"If you are doing the right thing, you will have no problems with the rules and regulations," he said.

Critics said the rules are unnecessary and would make life harder for people who are working for very little money.

Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, said the costumed artists and other street performers are protected by the First Amendment.

"We urge other elected officials to consider the consequences and think three times before signing on," Basinski said.

Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, which is working with the characters, said their input had not been adequately taken into consideration. She said laws are already on the books to address safety concerns.

"We don't need any more criminalization of people in New York," she said.

Jose Escalona-Martinez, who has dressed as Batman for the past four years, said he was OK with wearing an ID and had been more concerned about costumed characters being banned from Times Square.

"I have the right to stand up here in Times Square and dress like I want to dress," he said. As for ID, he said, "It doesn't bother me."

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