TIMES SQUARE — A day before the City Council’s vote on a bill that would restrict commercial activity in Times Square to designated zones, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez took to the pedestrian plazas to speak with those the legislation would affect.
Joined by Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins, who has been an outspoken advocate for the bill, Rodriguez addressed the press before speaking Tuesday with several groups of costumed characters working for tips in the plaza.
“For me, it’s about letting [the costumed characters] know that what we’re voting on tomorrow is something I’m confident will be best for them,” Rodriguez said, adding that his first experience meeting one of the costumed characters was as he was departing from a recent trip to the Victory Theater in Times Square.
"The workers said to me, ‘We started this business here, [but now], there are other new characters that are more aggressive, and we feel that something should be done so that we are protected,’” Rodriguez recalled.
Making his way down the plazas starting in Father Duffy Square, Rodriguez and Tompkins spoke with a number of costumed characters, including a Minnie Mouse, an Olaf the Snowman and an Incredible Hulk.
The Olaf impersonator, whose real name is Jaime Porres, 45, asked Rodriguez what the breakdown of zones in the pedestrian plazas would look like.
“There are some ideas, but nothing’s definite,” Rodriguez told him in Spanish.
The Department of Transportation's current proposal involves dividing the pedestrian plazas into eight “designated activity zones” for commercial activity and “flow zones” for foot traffic.
Oscar Paz, who usually works as a Statue of Liberty impersonator but was dressed in street clothes on Tuesday, expressed concern that the dozens of costumed characters currently working in Times Square won't all fit into the limited zones.
“How am [I] going to move in such a small space?” Paz asked Rodriguez in Spanish.
“There’s not going to be [just] one space — there will be eight spaces,” Rodriguez answered. “The plan that we’re voting is best for everyone.”
During his talks, Rodriguez suggested he and the Alliance check in on the characters every three months, to discuss their situations and revise any changes accordingly.
“Of course, at the beginning, there’s going to be a few things we need to fix,” Tompkins said. “The great majority of people will be able to continue their work and the rules will be a lot clearer."
Rodriguez and Tompkins also said the city planned to place signs saying “donations suggested” in or near the designated activity zones, which would clear up confusion over whether or not passersby are expected to tip for photos.
“In a place like Disneyland, getting your picture taken with Minnie Mouse is free. Here, there’s an expectation of a tip, [and] that we can make more clear,” Tompkins said.
But after speaking with Rodriguez, Porres, who has worked in Times Square for two years, expressed serious doubts about the proposal.
“It’s a trap or a ruse to get us out of here,” he said in Spanish. “They’re going to give them the authority to push everyone out and regulate everything.”
Uleses Torres, 32, a Smurf impersonator who has worked in the plazas for two months said being confined to certain areas would make their jobs “impossible.”
“Tourists are not going to walk by,” he said in Spanish.
He and several family members work as costumed characters in Times Square, he said.
“We don’t [normally] just stay in one spot — we go around,” he added.
At one point during the Rodriguez and Tompkins’ walk, a tour bus ticket seller shouted over the politician, saying, "Let us stay, man. Let everybody stay."