Times Square characters struggle amid bad PR

Some of Manhattan's costumed children's characters say they are getting a bad rap thanks to those among them who break character and antagonize visitors.

There was the infamous anti-Semitic Elmo in Central Park this past summer, who was escorted to a psychiatric hospital by police after he was heard giving a rant outside the Central Park Zoo. Sunday, police said, Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, 33, one of Times Square's many Cookie Monsters, was arrested after he allegedly shoved a 2-year-old boy to the ground after a fight with the child's mom over a tip.

Yesterday, some performers said they unfairly get the blame for the actions of similarly dressed showmen, and some are harassed and even assaulted on the job.

Lester Mengersen, 48, a New Jersey man who used to wear an Elmo costume, recalled that pedestrians ostracized him after Kevin Clash, the performer who voiced the "Sesame Street" character, left the show amid a sex scandal.

Mengersen, speaking through a Mickey Mouse mask, said, "Now, I bought this costume, I'm not being affected at all."

The performers said tip money from photographs is their main source of income.

"We do this to make a living," said Evan Laws, 22, who was dressed as Batman outside the Toys R Us in Times Square.

Laws, who has been performing for two months, said he's not worried about the spate of cartoon characters behaving badly on New York streets but would prefer that other Caped Crusaders like him stay out of trouble.

"As long as it's not my character," Laws said, "it shouldn't be a problem."

There is no licensing scheme in the city for performers who work for tips. Representatives from the Sesame Workshop didn't return a phone call.

And as their numbers proliferate, so have the complaints, according to Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance. Tompkins, who said most performers are just trying to make an honest living, said his group counted 52 characters in Times Square on Saturday.

"Law of averages says when you have that many people, none of whom can be identified or known, that you're going to have a problem," Tompkins said.

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