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Times Square Characters Should Wear Photo IDs, Officials Say

By Mathew Katz | July 29, 2014 8:30am
 A City Council bill would require all costumed characters in Times Square to wear photo identification.
A City Council bill would require all costumed characters in Times Square to wear photo identification.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

TIMES SQUARE — Officials want to impose new rules on Times Square's costumed characters after a man dressed as Spider-Man punched a police officer on Saturday.

The City Council will move forward in August with legislation that would require all characters to have background checks and wear photo identification.

The bill being drafted by City Councilman Andy King would create a licensing system that would regulate anyone wearing a mask or makeup, or otherwise altering their natural appearance, and earning money.

Each character would have to register with the city, undergo a background check and wear a photo ID.

"Thor cannot go out there without his hammer and you can't go out there without your ID," King said.

The goal would be to stop people with a prior history of violent crime from donning costumes and causing problems in Times Square.

"While some of these characters are earnest and honest people, there's no doubt that some are aggressive and have criminal histories," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, who supports the plan to regulate the costumed characters. 

Junior Bishop, 25, was dressed as Spider-Man on Saturday when he got into an argument with two passersby over money. When a police officer intervened, Bishop socked the officer in the face and was arrested, police said.

Costumed characters can be particularly aggressive towards tourists, who may not know that the faux-superheroes aren't allowed to ask for cash but can accept tips, Tompkins said.

"I've seen this happen. I've spoken to tourists and [the characters] can turn on you and become very aggressive," Tompkins said. 

Reactions to the proposed law were mixed among the characters.

"There's no price [on what we do], we only get tips — that's okay — but we can't afford to register with the city," said Claudia Cardenas, 24, who was dressed as Cookie Monster on Tuesday morning

Jordan Bay, dressed as Elmo, was more supportive of the plan and said that many of his fellow characters were "troublemakers."

"I work hard and I'm tired of working with violent people," Bay said, adding he had no problem with wearing identification. "I've got nothing to hide."

Even without the new law, Bay and Cardenas may not be able to work as Muppets for much longer. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of "Sesame Street," is considering legal action against people who dress up like their signature muppets as another way of handling the issue, according to the New York Post.

Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed Monday that the issues with costumed characters had "gone too far" and that they need to be regulated.

"It’s not appropriate for anyone to demand a certain amount of money from a passing tourist, harass them in that manner. That’s not appropriate," de Blasio said.

"And until we have new regulations in place, we will enforce in any situation where that occurs. But I think once we have regulation, we’ll be able to say very clearly to everyone that does that work, play by the rules or you won’t be working here anymore."