FAR ROCKAWAY — Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is willing to consider eliminating pedestrian plazas in Times Square as the city develops a strategy to deal with topless painted women and costumed characters in the area.
The mayor announced a task force co-chaired by City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod and Police Commissioner William Bratton that will include Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to examine solutions to concerns about aggressive behavior from the costume characters and the appropriateness of the topless women.
"You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts," de Blasio said in Queens at an unrelated press conference. "You could also argue they come with a lot of problems and a lot of the surrounding business community have certainly cited those problems."
Women have a right to be topless outside in New York City, and panhandling or asking for tips is not illegal. Still, de Blasio said he does not think the topless painted women in Times Square are appropriate.
"As a human being and a parent I don't think its appropriate in the middle of one of the busiest squares in New York City that women should display themselves that way," said the mayor.
De Blasio also said the aggressiveness of both the costume characters and the topless women in demanding tips for posing for pictures was an issue, as was the fact that both activities seem to be more of a business than panhandling.
"I think what's happening with those individuals is clearly a business dynamic and it should be regulated like a business, but for that to be done we need to identify the appropriate legislation that needs to be passed in the City Council," de Blasio said.
The pedestrian plazas are a signature of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 12 years in office. The mere suggestion of removing them from Times Square brought stiff opposition Thursday.
“Sure, let’s tear up Broadway - we can’t govern, manage, or police our public spaces so we should just tear them up," Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said in a statement. "That’s not a solution, it’s a surrender."
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said removing the plaza would go against de Blasio's Vision Zero plan to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths in the city.
"Back when Times Square was devoted primarily to cars, people walking through the area had to step into traffic to escape the narrow and overcrowded sidewalks. Why would we go back to those dangerous times, just because some hustlers and topless dancers are reminding us of the 'bad old days' in another way?" White said in a statement.
"Would we shut down the subways because of an increase in panhandling?" he added.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said through her spokesman that she's not in favor of removing the plazas.
De Blasio said he was also open to other options such as designating certain areas of Times Square for certain activities.
Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents a portion of Times Square, said he is working on legislation that would do just that with fellow Councilman Dan Garodnick and the Times Square Alliance.
"Right now its a no man's land in Times Square," Johnson said. "We just need there to be some predictability and that's why it makes sense for the city to determine the best location for these type of activities."
The mayor also pointed out that Times Square is not returning to the days when it was infested with crime, open prostitution and X-rated movie theaters, an idea floated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday.
"I was around for the bad old Times Square and this is starting to remind me of the bad old Times Square," said Cuomo, who added that he thought the activities of the topless women was illegal.
De Blasio disagreed with the governor and recognized the rights of the topless women and costume characters to be there. He also sees the problem as more of a quality of life issue that the city needs to regulate.
"Let's not believe the hype here," he said. "The fact is Times Square today is a safe place."
The task force is expected to return with its recommendation by Oct. 1.