Tourists go to Times Square to take pictures and not to get hassled by life-size cartoon characters. That’s the logic behind a bill pending before City Council. It would give the Department of Transportation the authority to regulate where costumed characters can stand and do their photo-ops. This comes amid an uptick in reports of aggressive encounters with passersby. Gilda Di Carli went to Times Square to find out more.
DI CARLI 1: Okay, so this is how it works. You’re standing in the middle of Times Square. The lights, the screens, the movement. Maybe you came from across the world, or maybe you came from across town. You take out your phone to take a picture… And then
RODRIGUEZ: I’m Iron Man. I’m really Iron Man in New York.
You’re surrounded by comic book characters demanding tips. And…
They can be a little aggressive sometimes.
Brother: Yeah, I don’t like them either… I don’t really like them either.
DI CARLI 2: That’s Frederick García and his brother, Tyler. They’re only kids, but many on the City Council seem to agree.
Times Square Alliance, a business improvement organization, did a survey were over 50% of people said they had a negative experience with the costumed characters. Experiences like this:
NOBLE: I think they forced me into it. They all kind of gathered, you couldn’t really get away, arms around you, you know. But they’re cute it’s New York why not.
She says they’re kind of cute, and she didn’t seem too bothered by it. But so far this year, the NYPD’s Times Square Unit has reported 16 arrests, compared to 15 in all of 2015. The solution which is being proposed, would restrict the costumed characters to certain zones within Times Square.
Jovanna Mendoza works year round, dressed as mini-mouse. She thinks the proposed bill isn’t fair. Sure, there are a few bad apples, like in any business. But, she says, some of the bad behavior comes from tourists…
Nosotros le decimos que trabajamos por propina. Ellos dicen que sí, que aceptan. Y a la hora de que estiramos la mano para que brinden la propina. Ellos dicen que no, que no nos van a dar nada. Porque la camara es de ellos y si solamente abrimos la boca para que nos den la propina que nos van a poner. La policia.
We tell them that we work for tips. They say yeah, Ok, we accept. And at the moment when we stretch our our hand to hand us the tip, they say No. That they’re not going to give us anything. Because the camera is theirs and if we even open our mouths, they’re going to call the police.
DI CARLI 5: Jovanna Mendoza, has two kids and makes about 50 bucks a day. Tourists may be annoyed for a few seconds, but Mendoza is hustling day in and day out.
For City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, author of the bill, balancing the needs of workers like Mendoza, and those of tourists who may feel intimidated… That’s the challenge he faces.
GARODNICK: We want to make sure that Times Square continues to maintain its quirkiness its edge. There are people who want to take a picture with Elmo. We get that. We also want to make sure that there is an area where people who are just trying to walk through.. We’re trying to balance here the need to bring some order out of chaos.
DI CARLI 6: A vote on Garodnick’s bill is expected this week. Gilda Di Carli Columbia Radio News.