Anti-Semitic Elmo Spurs Times Square Character Crackdown

N.Y. Council Wants Rules for Panhandling Costume Characters

By Reuters

Published July 09, 2014.
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Cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Spider-man have been adored by generations of children, but their costumed counterparts who roam New York City’s Times Square are more a public nuisance, New York City lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Indeed, tighter restrictions are likely ahead for the people who don the oversized costumes and pose for pictures with tourists for a fee, City Council members said at a meeting of the Times Square Alliance.

The unlicensed workers, who are under scrutiny in the wake of unsavory incidents with tourists, can be very aggressive, said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

“They accost people,” she said. “They ask to take a picture. They ask for money. They chase people to the ATM sometimes for money.”

Last month, a worker dressed as Spider-Man was fined $370 for punching a tourist who had pelted him with snow.

Last year, a costumed Cookie Monster was arrested for shoving a 2-year-old child whose mother failed to tip him, and in 2012, a man dressed as Elmo was arrested for an anti-Semitic tirade.

The council is likely to put forward legislation to regulate the characters but would protect their right to artistic expression, Brewer said.

City lawmakers have said that dressing up in a costume in Times Square could be protected under the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Last year, legislation to regulate the characters, including licensing requirements, failed to pass the City Council.

Brewer said that companies such as the Walt Disney Co , which holds the trademark for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Japan’s Sanrio Co which holds the trademark for Hello Kitty, could take legal action.

Lawmakers at the meeting said the number of characters has proliferated. On a recent Saturday, the Alliance surveyed the tourist-heavy Times Square and counted 76 costumed performers.

The most popular characters were Elmo - a character on the children’s television show Sesame Street, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse, it said.

A recent poll found that about one in six New Yorkers had had an unpleasant experience with the characters, the Alliance said, while two in five businesses and individuals it includes as members had had bad run-ins with the characters.


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