Elmo might approach with a shaggy red suit and friendly wave – but some parents are now wondering who is inside those oversized suits beckoning their children.
Last week, a man in an Elmo suit was kicked out of Central Park after screaming obscenities. He was taken away in an ambulance, and later told The New York Times his pre-Elmo career included running a pornographic website in Cambodia.
Around the city, in tourist hot spots like Times Square, Elmos – and other giant puppets like Cookie Monster and Hello Kitty – beckon families for photos, offering a quick pose with a furry smile for a buck.
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But unlike other sidewalk standers who collect cash, like street vendors, the city does not license or monitor puppets who pose for pics.
“Generally these characters are engaging in First Amendment activities and do not need a license," Sheryl Neufeld at the City Law Department told Metro in a statement.
If the Elmos are interfering with people using the sidewalk, police can tell them to move, she added, and failing to obey police can bring a disorderly conduct charge.
In Times Square yesterday, about 10 puppeted people shook bags filled with bills at tourists, hoping to snag cash for a photo. None would speak with a Metro reporter.
Park Slope mom Heidi Flanagan told Metro she was surprised to hear that no one tracks or approves the Elmos.
“It could be anyone,” she said. “Even a hot dog vendor needs a license."
Her 7-year-old daughter, now over Elmo, used to want to say hello, she said. “I never let her go up to them,” she said. “I was always like, ‘That’s for tourists.’”
Whether behind the oversized head is a squeaky-clean background or criminal past, she said they shouldn't roam free on city streets.
“Anybody that’s dressed up in a suit that’s clearly for kids. … They should be monitored,” she said.
She added, “These people are whoever can find a suit and rent a suit for a day … How do you know who’s decent?”
But mom Kate Harrison wasn’t bothered by adults in puppet costumes.
“I would never leave one of my kids alone with an Elmo or Mickey Mouse, so I guess it doesn’t trouble me more than the risk of the average person on the street,” she said.
Daniela Bernal contributed reporting.