TIMES SQUARE — One of Times Square's original costumed characters, the Naked Cowboy, joined a host of politicians to promote legislation aiming to crack down on commercial activity in Times Square’s pedestrian plazas — with a handful of tour bus ticket sellers speaking out in protest.
At a press conference held in Father Duffy Square Monday — two days before the bill’s scheduled public hearing — City Councilman Dan Garodnick claimed the Crossroads of the World has garnered a reputation as a haven for “unwanted harassment and unwanted solicitation” as the number of unruly costumed characters and aggressive ticket-sellers have grown over the years.
The legislation, introduced by Garodnick and several other council members earlier this month, would give the city’s Department of Transportation power to designate areas around the city as pedestrian plazas, allowing the city to set rules regulating activity within the designated zones.
“‘Come to New York — duke it out with a superhero.’ Is that what we really want to be known for?” asked Garodnick, referring to the recent arrests of costumed characters like Spider-Man and Batman in Times Square.
If the legislation passes, costumed performers, topless “desnudas,” tour bus ticket sellers and other solicitors would likely be restricted to designated commercial activity zones within Times Square.
But Gray Line bus tours ticket sellers, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 225, held signs reading “Don’t Kill Union Jobs” as the officials spoke at the event Monday.
Ticket sellers feel they have been dragged into the legislation unfairly, the union’s financial secretary-treasurer James Muessig said.
“I understand they’re having problems with Spider-Man, but why craft legislation to take care of the Spider-Men problem that puts these [ticket sellers] out of business?” Muessig said.
He estimated that ticket sellers could see their sales drop by 30 to 50 percent if they were forced to abandon their usual posts within Times Square’s pedestrian plazas.
“[Ticket sellers] have rent to pay, they have mortgages, they have kids going to college,” he said. “They count on this income.”
During the conference, however, Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins refuted the claims blaring from the ticket seller’s signs.
“Some of the signs say jobs are going to be lost. Respectfully, that’s not the case, because nothing is being banned in this bill,” Tompkins said.
He maintained the legislation would help eliminate “creepy” interactions between costumed characters and passersby while preserving the area’s “quirky” nature.
The Naked Cowboy, real name Robert Burck, said he and a “handful” of other street performers hoped the legislation would help regulate an area that has become overburdened with commercial street activity.
“There are a lot of street performers — it’s created a lot of competition, some conflicts,” he said. “I think [the legislation] will increase the quality of the performers,” he added.
Absent from the press conference and the surrounding area were the costumed characters themselves — many of whom support their families with tips they make in Times Square and claim they follow the rules.
Union members in attendance, meanwhile, expressed fears that their livelihoods could be affected by the legislation.
“A long time I do this job, and I love my job. I want it safe,” said Pintou Kourouma, 58, who has been selling tour bus tickets for the past 15 years.
“[The legislation is] not going to be good for us,” she added.