City Council members want to keep closer tabs on costumed characters who interact with the 500,000 people who pass through Times Square daily.
At a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would require the characters to obtain a license through the Department of Consumer Affairs, performers said they were concerned by the fingerprinting requirement and what they called the arbitrary line between asking tourists for tips in exchange for a photograph and a misdemeanor charge of “aggressive panhandling.”
“I’m a law-abiding citizen,” said Keith Albahae, who dresses as the Joker in Times Square. “If I need to be fingerprinted, every one should be.”
Bronx Councilman Andy King, who sponsored the bill, said he grew concerned a year ago when Dan Sandler, who performed as Elmo in Times Square was arrested last year for disorderly conduct.
The proposed law would require a permit for characters who conceal or alter their appearance with a mask or makeup. The $175 license would be valid for two years, with a one-time $75 fingerprinting fee.
While the bill’s language prohibits police from asking about a costumed character’s immigration status, New York City Artists United for a Smile and immigrant activist group La Fuente said the licensing will track immigrant performers who might be in the country illegally.
King said the bill is not about immigration or “trickery.”
“At the end of the day, we want everyone to be respected,” King said.
“We have to come up with … a system where there is some kind of filter to make sure that people with a prior aggressive criminal record can’t get a license,” said Tim Tompkins, president of Times Square Alliance. “We do not want this to be a backhanded way to affect people’s immigration status.”
Fordham law professor Jim Cohen said the bill wouldn’t pass a First Amendment challenge.