Topless women pose for pictures with tourists in Times Square...

Topless women pose for pictures with tourists in Times Square on Aug. 18, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that the proliferation of topless women prowling Times Square for tips "is starting to remind me of the bad old Times Square," and "it must be stopped."

In a phone interview with cable news station NY1, the governor said he worries the body-painted women, who pose with passersby, are a "symbol of degradation," "illegal" and are "infringing on legitimate businesses" in what is "supposed to be a tourist attraction, family-friendly."

"Forty-second Street was a symbol of degradation in New York City and in New York State," the 57-year-old Democrat said. "I'm old enough to remember."

He did not give specifics of what about the women's behavior is "illegal."

A 1992 decision by the state's top court ruled that women, like men, have the legal right to go topless, but the government can regulate commerce.

The governor's remarks came a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to rein in topless women, costumed characters and others who hustle passersby for cash at tourist hubs such as Times Square. He pledged action "soon" but gave no timeline.

State labor laws are among the legal weapons that can be deployed, said a Cuomo official who spoke on condition of anonymity. De Blasio spoke Tuesday of regulating the hustlers as a business.

Times Square, a tourist magnet, had long been notorious for peep shows, sex shops and drug dealing until the city drove those businesses out in the 1990s.

"It was a great success cleaning up Times Square. It became a symbol of the renaissance of New York City," Cuomo said.

"I think it is infringing on the investment that the state and the city made in the 42nd-Street area, and I think it has to be stopped," Cuomo said of the topless women as well as the costumed characters who target tourists. "We're talking to the city. I believe it's illegal. I believe we can enforce the law and clean it up, and we will."

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