TIMES SQUARE — An insider involved in dozens of meetings with City Hall officials since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office told DNAinfo New York that the administration's posture on quality of life issues in Times Square has been consistent: there was nothing they felt they could or wanted to do to address issues there.
The city maintained that the people causing problems in Times Square — from costumed characters and CD vendors to topless women — were merely expressing their First Amendment rights, or were poor people trying to make a buck to survive.
“They had excuses for everything,” one attendee recalled. “If it was the Elmos, they were immigrants trying to make a living. If it was people getting harassed and ripped off, well it is just the tourists.”
The insider, who previously worked at City Hall in another administration, added “it’s been a combination of, ‘No big deal,’ and ‘We can’t do anything about this.’”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton echoed that theme this week, saying in published reports he was handcuffed because the city’s Corporation Counsel said there was nothing the police — or the city, for that matter — could do about aggressive panhandlers.
“Bratton said the other day, ‘I can’t do anything about it’ and I think he was echoing a defeatist attitude the city has about Times Square throughout the past year and half,” the insider said.
But mayoral spokesman Karen Hinton countered that "we understand the frustration, but the issue is complex."
"The mayor has strongly expressed his concern about the constitutional issues and has said there’s no reason to take actions that would only land the city in court over First Amendment rights," she explained.
But within the last couple of days, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighing in that he was appalled by the situation, and newspapers showing the display of flesh at the “Crossroads of the World,” the mayor has announced he would address the problems.
He even declared on Thursday that he may get rid of the pedestrian plaza at the center of Times Square that the Bloomberg administration spent $55 million to create.
“You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impact,” de Blasio said at a press conference Thursday. “You could also argue that they've come with a lot of problems. And a lot of the surrounding business community has certainly cited those problems. So we'll give (removing the plaza) a fresh look.”
Bratton, who co-chairs the city’s newly created special task force on Times Square, told 1010 WINS he preferred “to just dig the whole thing up.”
They are not without oppostiion.
Transportation Alternatives chief Paul Steely White tweeted his dismay at the possibility of “cars and trucks reintroduced” to Times Square. And a spokesman for City Council speaker Mark Viveritto reiterated her support of the plaza.
Hinton pointed out that the task force will be looking at a range of options.
"No decision about any of the options has been made," Hinton said. "Bringing together the city’s experts on constitutional law, planning, transportation, and law enforcement, the task force will make its recommendations by Oct. 1."
She insists that the "mayor’s concern about the conditions in the plaza are long standing." He is "anxious to bring resolution through the task force," she says.
Ironically, the insider who has struggled with the city for the past year and half to get them to pay attention to Times Square was not pleased to hear of the option to remove the plaza.
“Is this how policy matters are done today?” the insider rhetorically asked. "One day they don't care, and then two days of thought and this is the solution, he can’t fix the problem, without getting rid of the mall?
"This is a solution?”