Actors Equity Joins Call to Regulate Aggressive Times Square Characters

News   Actors Equity Joins in Demanding Regulation of Aggressive Times Square Characters
Actors Equity and “Naked Cowboy” say they support NY City Council action.
Various cartoon figures wrangle passersby for photos
Various cartoon figures wrangle passersby for photos

The Times Square Alliance held a press conference in New York's Duffy Square March 28 to rally support for a New York City Council law that would regulate—but not ban—costumed characters, hawkers and ticket hustlers in Times Square.

The New York City Council recently introduced legislation to give the NYC Department of Transportation the authority to manage and regulate pedestrian plazas throughout New York City. The bill, officially designated as Intro 1109, will be the subject of a City Council public hearing March 30.

Among speakers at press conference was Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins, City Councilman Dan Garodnick and a selection of New Yorkers and Times Square-area employees who have experienced “the negative impacts of aggressive solicitation.”

Tompkins described the proposed bill in detail, saying that it would not ban the costumed figures, but would set up a section of the Times Square pedestrian plaza where they could ply their trade among visitors who chose to interact with them. The rest of Times Square would be left open for visitors to wander unmolested.

The legislation would apply to all public plazas throughout New York City.

In a survey cited by the Alliance, 61 percent of Times Square employees reported experiencing a negative encounter with costumed characters or commercial solicitors, with 51 percent of those respondents saying that interaction made them feel unsafe.

Tompkins introduced several speakers who supported the legislation, including Maria Somma of Actors Equity Association, and Robert John Burck, better known as the “Naked Cowboy,” one of the first Times Square street performers, who strums a guitar while clad only in boots, white briefs and a cowboy hat. Burck said that while he would miss being able to wander anywhere in Times Square, he said the proposed rules would benefit all street performers who respect the public and obey the rules.

The press conference was picketed by members Transit Workers Union 225, which represents hawkers who sell tickets to tourists for tour bus rides. The workers told that said the law would cost them jobs, something Tompkins disputed.

The solicitors dress as popular cartoon or movie or video game characters, occasionally as the Statue of Liberty, sometimes as naked carnival dancers who wear nothing more than body paint (known as “desnudas”). They offer to pose for pictures with tourists, then demand payments, sometimes as much as $20, which are supposed to be voluntary tips. Those people who decline to tip are sometimes treated aggressively, which has led to complaints and several arrests. Also covered by the legislation would be ticket scalpers and hawkers who sell tickets to comedy shows, sometimes fraudulently.

The Alliance released tweets it had received with anecdotes about harassment by the costumed characters (none of whom were in evidence during the press conference). A typical sample: Estefania Ayala tweeted, "Times Square is only a fun experience if you enjoy being groped by grown men in knockoff Disney character costumes."

New York Magazine reported that the pace of arrests has been picking up in recent months, which may have prompted the City Council hearing.

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