Mickey, Minnie, Elmo and the Cookie Monster don’t have Council member Andy King’s back.
Costumed characters held a protest Monday at Duffy Square, where King, the Times Square Alliance and other officials gathered to announce a bill the council member is introducing on Wednesday.
If passed, the legislation would require New York performers who conceal their identities using masks or face paint to register with the department of consumer affairs, and submit to a background check. The performers would be required to wear an identification badge with their current photo. The badges would cost $170 and be valid for two years. Performers could face penalties between $25 and $100 if they don’t wear the badge, and up to $500 if a civil infraction occurs, King said.
“This bill is strictly about safety in New York,” said King, who added he’s not interested in the immigration status of the costumed performers, and that he doesn’t see the licensing as a First Amendment violation.
King said the law isn’t against characters “expressing” who they are. “If you do come out, we want to know who you are,” King said.
King said the bill was inspired by an “Elmo who kind of lost his mind” about a year ago. The legislation would protect New York tourists, law enforcement and the performers themselves, King said, and create “one handbook of rules of engagement” for an unregulated industry.
This summer, the costumed characters banded together after a string of unfavorable incidents, including a performer punching a police officer who intervened in a tipping dispute, forming the Association of Artists United for a Smile. Last month, the NYPD launched a campaign to inform tourists that tipping was optional, not mandatory.
King said he was surprised the characters were counter-protesting instead of standing behind him, saying he’s had two meetings with the group in the last 48 hours, and they “flipped” on him.
But Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, said King was supposed to meet with the performers on Tuesday to discuss the proposed legislation. Instead, he decided to hold a press conference, Gomez said, adding she doesn’t see a need for him to meet with them now.
A La Fuente spokesman said the “best” the performers make is about $80 a day.
King was joined by Manhattan South Police Chief William Morris, called the bill a “terrific tool for the police department.”
“Quirky is fun but creepy is not, that’s been the issue,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which helped draft the bill.
Jose Escalona-Martinez, 41, who has performed as Batman in Times Square for the past four years, said “no one can regulate freedom.” Escalona-Martinez said the licensing wouldn’t “matter” to him, especially because he has been on television and in countless photographs.
“I’ll do what they tell me what to do,” Escalona-Martinez said.