The Canadian tourist took a photo with the free hugs man at about noon and then he punched her in the face when she refused to give him money, officials said.
The tourist saved a photo of the man on her phone, which she gave to investigators who were then able to identify a suspect, an NYPD spokesman said.
She was taken to a local hospital in stable condition.
Police have identified a suspect who is “no stranger to this,” Chief of Department James O’Neill said at a press conference at NYPD headquarters Thursday, and has “multiple prior arrests,” including several for assault.
The City Council recently voted to restrict where costumed performers are allowed to work for tips. A public hearing on the Department of Transportation's proposed pedestrian plaza rules is scheduled for May 23.