New York mayor signs bill regulating Times Square characters

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill Thursday to regulate where and how costumed characters like Spider-Man and Elmo operate in Times Square and to curtail any aggressive behaviour.

The City Hall ceremony capped a yearlong City Council effort to rein in pushy panhandlers who have flooded the square, some harassing pedestrians to pay for photos. Last summer, topless, body-painted women caused a furor with their in-your-face presence.

The new law allows city officials to restrict the characters’ movements and keep them from blocking pedestrians in traffic-free parts of the square, which draws 39 million visitors from around the world each year in addition to millions of New Yorkers.

The council approved the legislation this month.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the atmosphere in Times Square ranges “between fun and frightening,” depending on the various characters’ behaviour.

The legislation also gives the city Department of Transportation control over pedestrian plazas throughout the city.

At one of the City Council hearings leading up to the vote, Keith Albahae, who works as the Joker, said the new rules are “not right.”

“We provide an immense entertainment,” he said. “The only people who are upset basically are people who want free pictures. Nobody forces you to take pictures, and if somebody does, then that’s on them.”

But critics point to past attacks on visitors, including children. One Spider-Man was accused of punching a police officer for telling a woman she didn’t have to pay.

Officials attending Thursday’s signing included Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins, city Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and City Councilman Corey Johson, a member of a city task force that had proposed the limited “activity zones.”

They’re all working together now to nail down details of the new plans for Times Square before the summer crowds descend.