Times Square Neighborhood Groups Team Up to Regulate Busking Elmos

The costumed characters that often charm, but sometimes intimidate, visitors to Times Square will have to play by some new rules under a bill passed this week by the New York City Council, after neighborhood groups raised concerns about aggressive behavior and rising crime in the popular tourist spot. The Times Square Alliance led the charge.

The Times Square Elmos, superheroes, exotic dancers, and Marios won’t be going anywhere, but now it appears they will have a smaller space in which to work.

The costumed characters actively court tourists for pictures and tips, and their number has risen substantially in recent years. So have have complaints about harassment and crime in the area, prompting concern by local businesses and neighborhood groups that Times Square’s carefully cultivated tourist-friendly vibe could be threatened.

A bill championed by the Times Square Alliance and dozens of other neighborhood organizations to combat the problem, which passed the New York City Council on Thursday,  would limit the areas where the mascots my work. Each of the eight zones is roughly the size of a city bus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to sign the bill, though he has previously expressed support for regulating the workers.

Since the beginning of the year, police officers have arrested 16 “bad characters,” according to comments made by NYPD Captain Robert O’Hare during a city council hearing last week. (The hearing was a little wacky, with in-costume buskers providing testimony that was largely critical of the bill. It’s not often that Batman and The Joker agree on something.)

In comments to Playbill, Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins welcomed the new rules. “The passage of this bill ensures that the pedestrian plazas not only in Times Square, but also throughout all five boroughs, will be vibrant and successful public spaces,” he said.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Tompkins added that the bill will allow those legitimately making a living through busking to continue to do so.

“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,” Tompkins said.

The controversy over the Elmos has been heating up for a couple of years. In 2014, in an effort to self-regulate, some of the costumed characters launched an organization called Artists United for a Smile.

If the mayor signs the bill, however, the city will actively regulate the workers.

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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