Times Square: Characters roaming free could find a new limited range

Patricia Burck performs in Times Square as the Naked Cowgirl in December 2015 during a warm spell.

Story highlights

  • City Council votes to allow the city to corral the characters and street performers scattered throughout Times Square
  • Some of the characters say they're just entertaining and not trying to create trouble

(CNN)Back to your corner, Cookie Monster. And no funny business, Joker.

New York City passed legislation Thursday that would allow the city to corral the characters and street performers who are scattered throughout Times Square.
    The bill calls on the Department of Transportation to regulate pedestrian plazas in an effort to coordinate "the wide variety of sometimes conflicting civic and commercial uses of these finite spaces."
    Council members agreed to allow the controlling of the entertainers who gather at the "Crossroads of the World" looking for tips -- including Elmos, Cookie Monsters, topless women and mixtape artists -- with plans to gather them in tighter, rectangular areas on these pedestrian plazas that allow for traffic to move around them.
    The characters, in recent years, have been on the front pages of New York tabloids for arrests and have been known to sometimes harass tourists for tips.
    In 2013, a man dressed as Cookie Monster was accused of shoving a 2-year-old after the child's parents refused to give the Sesame Street character a $2 fee he requested post-photo.
    In recent years, topless women wearing body paint turned lots of heads, as did a man dressed from "Toy Story" who was charged with three counts of touching and three counts of third-degree sex abuse, as well as a "Spider-Man" caught on video punching and wrestling a pedestrian.

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    At a City Council meeting last week, Spider-Man and The Joker voiced their concern about such measures.
    "The real problem is about looking different," Keith Albahae, dressed as The Joker, told the City Council last week. "I've started asking for tips because I have to.
    "We do not harass people or block traffic -- maybe just a few do ... but I am speaking from the heart, I may look like a clown, whatever," Albahae continued.
    "I agree with The Joker even though he's a villain and I'm a superhero," said Abdelamine Elkhezzani, dressed as Spider-Man at the meeting.
    "We're there to entertain people, we put a big smile on people's faces and we work on tips," Elkhezzani said. "This has opened up a lot of opportunities for people to support their families."
    City officials have long worried that the bad behavior of some might deter tourism to New York.
    NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton asked Disney and Marvel last year to crack down on the characters soliciting tips by suing them for copyright infringement. The companies did not sue.
    In August, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio created a task force to identify the best ways to keep Times Square "the popular destination site for visitors and families from New York City and across the world," he said at the time.
    "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, spokesman for de Blasio said in a statement to CNN on Thursday.