Eight city bus-sized zones would corral Times Square’s topless women, costumed characters, tour-bus hawkers and other buskers, according to draft rules unveiled Wednesday at the New York City Council.
With Spider-Man, Batman and the Joker waiting hours to testify in costume, officials in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration told lawmakers the new rules could be in place by late May or early June.
“You want to come to Times Square and hug an Elmo or take a chance on a CD from an unknown artist or take a picture with a naked lady? Go for it. More power to you,” said Council member Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan), a lead sponsor of legislation allowing the zones. “But we’re also going to give you a safe space if you don’t want to be approached or harassed or solicited.”
The characters are now free to roam Times Square, peddling for tips. But the activity would be restricted to the bus-sized areas, within what city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called “designated-activity zones,” delineated by chalk or temporary tape, measuring about 50 feet by 10 feet, in eight spots between 42nd and 47th streets. Adjacent so-called “flow zones” would permit only pedestrian traffic.
Capt. Robert O’Hare, who oversees the 105-officer NYPD unit that polices Times Square, testified Wednesday that verbal warnings would precede arrests of what he called “bad characters.”
Complaints about aggressive hustling in the pedestrian plazas have festered for years, but the regulatory push gained steam only last summer, amid tabloid coverage of a new presence known as desnudas: topless painted women who pose with tourists in exchange for tips.
The proposed law, Introduction No. 1109-A, also would allow rules to be set for the city’s 72 other plazas citywide, about 50 of which are now open and the rest coming soon. The rules would not apply to political protests, which are covered by the First Amendment.
But “Spider-Man,” real name Abdel Amine Elkhezzani, 37, of Astoria, Queens, said his costumed expression is constitutionally protected, too.
Elkhezzani, a former hot-dog vendor who said the NYPD has wrongly arrested him in costume at least four times, took off work to testify.
“To put us in a zone, as they say, or a box — I’m not a rabbit, sir, I’m a spider,” he said.
Also testifying against the bill was Keith Albahae, aka the Joker, whom a plainclothes NYPD detective had denied entry to City Hall until Albahae washed off his face makeup.
“Why so serious?” he asked lawmakers.
Said Spider-Man, er, Elkhezzani, his Spidey web dangling: “I agree with the Joker — even though he’s a villain.”