NYC Council passes bill to crack down on Elmos in Times Square

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NYC Cracks Down on Times Square Performers

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The topless women, Elmos and other costumed characters who work for tips in New York's Times Square will no longer be free to roam the area under a bill passed by the City Council on Thursday.

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In response to scared tourists and annoyed locals, the council's law would restrict the characters to a handful of designated zones, each about the size of a city bus, where they could solicit tips for posing for photographs. Other areas of the Times Square pedestrian plaza would be off limits.

The legislation comes after complaints about aggressive solicitation of money and other behavior in the famed midtown Manhattan crossroads by the dozens of Elmos, Spidermen and other mascots who set up shop there.

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NYC Council passes bill to crack down on Elmos in Times Square
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: People dressed in various famous character costumes, who pose for photos with people for money, talk in Times Square on April 9, 2014 in New York City. The iconic New York City intersection of of Broadway and Seventh Ave., was christened 'Times Square' 110 years ago after New York City Mayor George B. McClellan signed a resolution to change the name from Long Acre Square. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Costumed characters gather on a corner August 20, 2013 in New York's Times Square as they try to attract attention of tourists who want to pose for photographs with them. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this April 9, 2013 file photo, a Super Mario character, left, uses a woman's mobile phone camera to photograph her with a pair of Elmo characters in New York's Times Square. A New York City Council member is drafting legislation to regulate the costumed characters who roam Times Square. The bill being proposed by Councilman Dan Garodnick would require that the costumed performers be licensed and go through a background check. There have been a number of troublesome incidents involving costumed figures who try to make a living by charming tourists. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
A costumed street busker holds See's Chocolate Caramel lollypops in Times Square as See's Candies prepares to celebrate National Lollypop Day, Wednesday, July 17, 2013, in New York. National Lollypop Day is observed on Saturday, July 20. (Photo by John Minchillo/Invision for See's Candies/AP Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: A person dressed in a 'Hello Kitty' costume attempts to have her photo taken with a boy for money Times Square on April 9, 2014 in New York City. The iconic New York City intersection of of Broadway and Seventh Ave., was christened 'Times Square' 110 years ago after New York City Mayor George B. McClellan signed a resolution to change the name from Long Acre Square. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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In the past two years, there has been a proliferation of costumed characters who pose for pictures with tourists in return for tips in Times Square. Once known for its sex shops, cavernous movie theaters and street crime, the area has been a family-friendly tourist attraction since the 1990s.

But scattered incidents of violence and allegations of aggressive behavior by some characters have raised concerns that the area could regress, pushing politicians to call for new restrictions. The appearance of topless women with painted bodies raised particular concern about the area's "family" atmosphere being compromised.

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has voiced support for new restrictions, would not say whether he would sign the bill.

The workers say the bill unfairly targets them and could hurt their access to tourists.

Keith Albahae, who works as a green-haired Joker character, told a hearing last week that he and his colleagues "do not harass people or block traffic," adding that some tourists complain when they realize they are supposed to tip a few dollars for photos.

To the Times Square Alliance, the business association that helped write the bill, it is a quality of life issue.

"It really is a compromise to recognize that there are people earnestly earning a living, but also that there's been some real problems that just like any other commercial activity you need to regulate it," said Tim Tompkins, president of the alliance, said in an interview Wednesday.

In 2015, more than 300 costumed characters, topless women and ticket vendors worked in Times Square, police said.

Since January, at least 16 of the workers have been charged with crimes, including assault, aggressive soliciting, forcible touching and grand larceny, according to police. Last year, there were 15 arrests.

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