Costumed characters who pose for pictures with tourists in Times Square could become regulated under a proposed New York City law.
If passed, the bill would require anyone who alters their appearance with costumes, makeup, wigs, or other methods and seeks money to go through a registration process, complete a background check, and wear identification visible on their person while in character.
“We want to make sure we can identify everyone,” said Council member Andy King (D), who’s working on the bill.
The proposal comes after an Elmo got into an argument with a father in Times Square last year, King said, but he’s also had his own experience when his granddaughter took a photo with Strawberry Shortcake. “Strawberry Shortcake didn’t appreciate the tip,” he said. “She ripped off her head and got belligerent with the father.”
King said he also worries about the possibility of sex offenders, terrorists, and criminals hiding beneath the costumes.
“I want people to understand this piece of legislation is designed to protect the tourist, the New Yorker,” he said, and also protect those who wear the costumes.
Earlier this month, the New York Police Department and Times Square Alliance began handing out flyers to Times Square visitors indicating people don’t have to pay to take their photos with the characters. It’s a move that’s resulted in a decline in how much they take home, said Alex Gomez, a spokesman for the group La Fuente, which is working to fight against the restrictions.
“They’ve noticed a drop off,” he said. “Most these folks usually bring home less than minimum wage.”
He estimated about 80 percent of costumed characters are immigrants, and said they recognize some incidents where irate Mickey Mouses and anger Spider-Men have led the entire group to be characterized negativity, but he said, “their attitude is don’t judge us by a few bad apples.”
If the bill passes, King believes New York City would be the first to regulate costumed characters, which have become a staple in tourist spots like Las Vegas and downtown Hollywood.
Las Vegas tried to ban those soliciting money or handing out leaflets in the Freemont Street Experience, but the ACLU sued in 1997 and a 9th Circuit judge ruled the area was a public forum. Today, costumed characters and performers there have restrictions on where they’re allowed to stand and how much equipment they can have, following a 2011 ordinance. The city is considering other ordinances and guidelines, mindful the performers can argue prohibitions on them being there are a violation of their freedom of speech.
“It comes down to the basic question: are they there exercising their freedom of expression or are they conducting business?” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada.