Who's behind the cartoon costumes in Times Square
They look like fun, but who is really inside those costumes? Turns out no one really knows, not even the city.
We found an Elmo character and the Cookie Monster on the corner of 47th street and Broadway. The man playing the Cookie Monster did not speak English and told me he was an illegal immigrant. His colleague playing Elmo also did not speak English.
"They give us donations because they want to not because they have to,” said the man in Spanish playing Elmo.
These characters say they make between $80 dollars and $100 dollars a day. They say they have to give 10 percent of their earnings to the group that rents out the costumes, which cost $300 to $400 dollars.
When News4NY explained they could buy their own costumes if they saved up, they told us they would not have corners to work because the group that rents the costumes also claims ownership over the public corners. We asked if it was like the mob Elmo-Style.
“Practically yes. They would put two other cartoon characters next to you so you wouldn't be able to get any money," said the man playing Elmo.
On that corner in Times Square the Brunetti family from Scranton, Pennsylvania posed for a photo with Elmo.
"They asked for a donation," said mom Lorriane Brunetti who admitted she did not have time to think about having her children pose with a stranger or about where her donation was going. "I have no idea."
"Suspicious. They didn't seem like they were sanctioned and that they had ulterior motives,” said dad Steve Brunetti who didn’t like the experience.
It turns out there is nothing illegal about what these cartoon characters do all over New York. The city's law department says it's freedom of speech, and unless they demand payment they're not considered vendors so they don't need permits.
We found an Easter bunny outside of 30 Rock. It turns out he did not speak English either. He's an Egyptian immigrant who showed us his Green Card.
"It's one of those strange times in life where if you have a choice between a Muppet and a naked cowboy you may actually be better off with the naked cowboy, " says Councilman Dan Garodnick
Councilman Garodinick is chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, which handles street vendors. News4NY asked Garodnick if the costumed characters should be monitored. What if a pedophile or wanted criminal decided to suit up and start taking photos with children?
"I would encourage tourists and people in New York who are trying to find good uses for their entertainment dollars to spend them elsewhere but we need to protect first amendment rights and make sure these folks are not crossing the line," said Garodnick
A man posing as the Statue of Liberty, working outside of 30 Rock names his price: 3 dollars for a photo. But he has a permit so he's allowed to sell his services.
"My license. I'm a legal people [person]. Not like them. They are Elmo. They don' t have nothing. Even you don't know who they are."
Neither does anyone else. But for some that's okay.
"I think the economy is so bad right now but maybe they're doing a good thing and they're not harming anyone," said grandmother Anne Corner from Bricktownship, New Jersey.