Lawmakers look to regulate Elmo, Spider-Man and other Times Square costumed characters

times square character elmo
An Elmo impersonator sits in Times Square.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Elmo may be getting his own ID.

After a string of incidents and growing concern, officials are hoping to regulate costumed characters that solicit money for photos in Times Square.

“It seems crazy — wanting to give IDs to people who dress up in costumes — but there have been so many complaints,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance.

The performers have become more noticeable in recent years, partially following the arrests of several characters, including Mario, the Cookie Monster and Woody from “Toy Story.”

In the most recent incident last month, a man dressed up Spider-Man was accused of groping a woman.

“I ‘grew up’ with the Naked Cowboy,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said of the “creepy” characters. “This is not something I’m used to.”

times square character elmo
A group of Times Square character performers pose for a photo.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Officials said the number of characters has proliferated. During a survey on a recent Saturday, the Alliance counted 76 costumed performers in Times Square. The most popular were Elmo, Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

New York City is known for quirky characters. But officials said the costumed performers often harass and threaten people in Times Square, demanding tips and scaring children.

Councilman Dan Garodnick, whose district includes part of the popular destination, said tourists and parents will pay the characters because they feel scared.

“They don’t know what to do other than hand over money,” Garodnick said.

For tourists, “That shouldn’t be their first welcoming,” Brewer added.

Visiting from India, Angela Zonunpari said the characters added a “certain charm” to Times Square.

“But being constantly asked i f I want to take a photo with them gets a little frustrating,” said Zonunpari, 25.

times square characters minions despicable me
A woman in Times Sqaure pays two people dressed as minions from “Despicable Me.”
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

The characters, along with CD peddlers and tour bus hawkers, may also be having an impact on the area’s theater industry, said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League. Though overall Broadway attendance is up, the percent of suburbanite theater-goers has decreased, from 19.5 in the 2011-2012 season to 17.1 in the 2012-2013, according to the league.

St. Martin said the characters are partially to blame because they change the atmosphere of Times Square. 

“You see costumed characters with their hats off and smoking a cigarette,” St. Martin said.

Lawmakers are drafting legislation that would regulate the characters, proposing a license requirement and background checks. Officials are also concerned with copyright infringement.

Bronx Councilman Andy King plans to introduce legislation July 24. He said he’s worried about children.

Just last week, a Strawberry Shortcake impersonator took of her head in front of King’s 5-year-old granddaughter during a visit to Times Square. She began crying and several adults around began yelling at the woman in the costume, who started cussing in return.

Seeing a beloved character act that way — or with a human head — can confuse children, King said.

“We want to make sure we protect the innocence,” he said.

times square character elmo
A man wears a Mario costume without the head.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Tompkins said a regulatory system would also help stop the “bad characters.”

“If Elmo 36 is doing bad things to people, we can track him down and take his license away,” Tompkins said.

The difficultly, lawmakers said, is regulating the characters without violating the first amendment, including freedom of expression and the right to panhandle. Officials are working with lawyers to ensure any laws would balance those rights while curbing harassment.

A few of the characters seemed open to regulations on a recent afternoon. Paul Smith has only been dressing up as Spider-Man for a month but said several characters can get aggressive.

“There are definitely some of them who shouldn’t be here,” said Smith, 50.

times square characters elmo minnie mouse
Elmo and Minnie Mouse impersonators in Times Square, without their masks on.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Tompkins said he doesn’t want to ban the characters outright.

“The whole point of a regulatory scheme is to help the people who are trying to honestly earn a living,” Tompkins said.

Despite the “bad apples,” Smith said a few characters already tell passers-by they want to charge for photos before they’re taken.

“That’s what’s needed. Some etiquette,” he said.

Recent incidences involving costumed characters:

— A Spider-Man was arrested for allegedly groping a woman in June.

— A Woody from “Toy Story” was charged with forcible touching in January.

— A Cookie Monster accused of shoving 2-year-old in April 2013 got one day of community service.

— Another Spider-Man was convicted last month of harassing a woman in February 2013. He was accused of punching a mother when she wouldn’t tip him. Batman had to intervene when she threw snow at the character’s head.

— A Super Mario Brother was arrested for groping a woman in December 2012.

— An Elmo’s antisemitic rant was caught on tape in June 2012.

Samar Khurshid contributed reporting. Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

NYPD looking for man they say assaulted elderly…

      The New York City Police Department is asking for the public's assistance in locating a Hispanic male 20's wanted in connection with…

Local

Three arrested after allegedly assaulting off-duty officer in…

Three men were arrested early Saturday morning after allegedly assaulting an off-duty officer at a Bronx bodega, and the NYPD is asking for the public's…

Local

Healthcare union creates vibrant West Indian Day Parade…

Volunteers worked almost around the clock through the weekend, putting the flashy finishing touches on hundreds of costume pieces 1199SEIU members will wear while marching…

National

Top 10 most hipster college campuses

Hipsters are everywhere these days. You can't walk down the anywhere anymore without seeing a pair of skinny jeans on a handlebar mustachioed 20-something, a…

Arts

Theater: Discouraging 'Poor Behavior'

Theresa Rebeck's latest off-Broadway play, about two couples sparring on a weekend getaway, repeats a few mistakes of her past.

Gossip

Chef Todd English arrested for DWI in the…

Celebrity chef Todd English is facing DWI charges after a traffic stop on Sunday.

Movies

Box office: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is 2014's…

This weekend "The Guardians of the Galaxy" passed the fourth "Transformers" movie to become the highest grossing film of 2014.

Gossip

Spears back with controversial ex?

Is Briteny Spears back with Adnan Ghalib?

Sports

Novak Djokovic feeds off US Open crowd to…

Novak Djokovic isn't a native New Yorker, but he sure knows how to use the U.S. Open crowd to his advantage.

NFL

Odell Beckham still 'weeks away,' Tom Coughlin angry…

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has fought a losing battle against the media all preseason over the status of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

Education

These college students think breakfast is the most…

  It should be no surprise that the city that never sleeps is also home to the most students who like to order food in…

Sex

When it comes to dating, height matters

Does a man’s height really matter when it comes to dating? Unfortunately - according to a new study - the answer looks like it’s yes.…

Travel

10 free apps to make traveling easier

Finding the nearest bathroom, calculating currency exchanges and locating your departure gate must have been difficult for travelers of previous generations. But we wouldn't know,…

Travel

How to get a seat upgrade to business…

It used to be much easier to upgrade your coach seat to business or even first class, but rigid rules and tighter schedules have made…