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After Times Square arrest, costumed performers say they're not all troublemakers

A person dressed as the Cookie Monster in

A person dressed as the Cookie Monster in Times Square Monday. (Charles Eckert) Credit: A person dressed as the Cookie Monster in Times Square Monday. (Charles Eckert)

Some of Manhattan’s costumed children’s characters say they are getting a bad rap by those among them who have broken character and antagonized or assaulted visitors.

There was the infamous anti-Semitic Elmo in Central Park last summer, who was escorted to a psychiatric hospital after he was heard ranting against Jews.

Now, police said, 33-year-old Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, a Times Square Cookie Monster, was arrested Sunday after allegedly shoving a 2-year-old boy to the ground after a fight with the child’s mom over a tip.

But performers told amNewYork Monday that they unfairly get blamed for the actions of similarly dressed showmen, and some are often harassed and even assaulted on the job.

Lester Mengersen, a 48-year-old New Jersey man who used to wear an Elmo costume, recalled when pedestrians would ostracize him because of the sexual-abuse charges against Kevin Clash, who voiced the “Sesame Street” character.

“I heard someone say stay away from this Elmo [or] ‘Elmo, I heard you got out of jail,’” Mengersen said through a Mickey Mouse mask. “Now, I bought this costume, I’m not being affected at all.”

Mengersen was among a dozen or so costume performers jostling for tourist tips around Times Square, alongside Cookie Monsters, Elmos, Doras and Batmans.

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

“We do this to make a living,” said Evan Laws, a 22-year-old dressed as Batman in Times Square, who added customers regularly try to stiff him on tips.

Laws said he’s not worried about the spate of cartoon characters behaving badly on city 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.”

Barry Hughes, a tourist from Ireland who took a picture of one of the characters, said he never wondered who could be behind a friendly looking mask. “They should be checked,” Hughes said.

But there is no licensing scheme in the city for performers who work for tips. Representatives from the Sesame Workshop didn’t return a request for comment.
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 a living, said his group counted 52 characters in Times Square on Saturday.

“Law of average say when you have that many people, none of whom can be identified or known, that you’re going to have a problem,” Tompkins said. “A lack of any kind of regulation or monitoring is setting us up for, frankly, a disaster waiting to happen.”

For instance, one caped superhero Monday launched into a homophobic diatribe about same-sex couples and their public displays of affection — in earshot of tourists walking by.

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Out of Character

The alleged child-shoving Cookie Monster is the latest children's character to get hauled off by the NYPD.

A Spider-Man in February was accused of punching a woman after she declined to tip him; he claimed self-defense after she allegedly pelted him with a snowball.

A Super Mario was arrested in Times Square in December after a woman claimed he groped her.

An anti-Semitic Elmo named was taken into custody in Central Park last June after ranting against Jews.

An unidentified Elmo in 2009 was reportedly harassing tourists with aggressive demands for money.

Source: Times Square Alliance

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