- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2016

Times Square entertainers who pose for pictures in exchange for tips could soon see their stomping ground drastically reduced following a City Council vote on Thursday that puts the fate of furry mascots, topless women and other costumed characters in the hands of the New York City Department of Transportation.

City officials on Thursday agreed to let the NYC Transportation Department set the rules for Times Square’s pedestrian plazas — a decision that is expected to lend to new regulations, and specifically restrictions concerning where costume characters are allowed to solicit tips from passersby.

Although once overrun with porn theaters and other seedy establishments, a decades-long transformation has turned Times Square into a family-friendly tourist destination that’s been increasingly accentuated in recent years by the presence of cartoon characters, comic-book heroes and other entrepreneurial New Yorkers who make their money by posing for pictures.

On the heels of complaints from angry locals and tourists alike, however, the City Council voted 42 to 1 this week to let the Transportation Department create its own rules for regulating the area.

Polly Trottenberg, the current commissioner of the Transportation Department, has suggested the creation of “activity zones” where costume characters can solicit tips, and separate “flow zones” where pedestrians could walk through Times Square without having to interact with the likes of Spider-Man and Elmo.

Times Square is basically a victim of its own success,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat who supports letting transportation officials set new rules for the area. “What we’ve seen is a proliferation of commercial uses that are now taking place on these plazas throughout Times Square.”

Performers should be able to make an “honest buck” in Times Square, Mr. Johnson told The New York Times, but some go too far. “People should be able to walk through Times Square without being harassed and harangued,” he told the newspaper.

“They harass tourists, they aggressively solicit tips and many of them won’t leave you alone,” added Councilman Daniel Garodnick, a Democrat. “Just Google your favorite superhero and ‘arrested in Times Square,’ and you will get a million hits.”

The New York Police Department arrested a total of 15 Times Square entertainers during 2015, and in October the NYPD doubled the number of cops in the area to more than 100.

So far this year, authorities have already charged at least 16 workers with crimes including assault, aggressive soliciting, forcible touching and grand larceny, police said.

Times Square is one of the most iconic and visited places in the city, and the Council’s legislation goes a long way toward making the experience better and more enjoyable for New Yorkers and tourists alike,” Austin Finan, a spokesman for Mayor Bill De Blasio, said in a statement.

Mr. De Blasio will likely sign-off on letting the Transportation Department take action, and any rules proposed by the agency will be followed by a 30-day window for the public to weigh in before restrictions are put in place, The New York Times reported. Changes could come as soon as next month, the paper added.

Even if costume characters are restricted to designated zones, however, some entertainers say they won’t oblige.

“I’m Spider-Man. I don’t stay in a zone,” 37-year-old Abdel Amine Elkhezzani said during Thursday’s City Council hearing, the New York Daily News reported. “If they think they’ve got rules and regulations I need to follow, I’m not following it, and I will be the first one to get arrested.”

“I have a right to walk in a public space in my Spider-Man costume,” he told The New York Times. “If somebody wants to take pictures with me, that’s their right.”

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