Batman, Joker Unite for Hearing on Times Square Rules

"Come to New York, duke it out with a superhero! Is that really what we want to be known for?" one councilman said

Batman and the Joker set aside their differences to attend a New York City Council hearing Wednesday on proposed restrictions designed to curb run-ins with tourists in pedestrian plazas including Times Square.

The legislation to allow the city's Department of Transportation to create regulations for plazas comes after scores of complaints in recent years over aggressive panhandling behavior, primarily from the costumed characters pushing onlookers for tips.

Capt. Robert O'Hare, commanding officer of the New York Police Department's unit in Times Square, said at the hearing that there have been 16 arrests so far this year, compared to 15 in all of last year.

Just last weekend, a man in a Spider-Man costume was arrested after allegedly fighting with a tourist over a tip. Other incidents in the past couple of years include another Spider-Man figure punching a police officer trying to prevent aggressive solicitation, and a man dressed as Cookie Monster attacking a 2-year-old child whose parents didn't offer a tip.

"Come to New York, duke it out with a superhero! Is that really what we want to be known for?" Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, one of the bill's sponsors, said at an event in support of it on Monday.

Those supporting the bill, like Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance business group, say the legislation will allow for all the kinds of activities that take place in Times Square now, but in specific zones. People who want to take a photo with a costumed character or buy a ticket for a sightseeing tour could still do so, while those who don't could get through the area without the threat of harassment, supporters say.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told councilmembers that the zones would allow for about 50 to 55 people. At the department's highest count, there have been about 300 costumed characters, naked painted ladies and bus tour ticket sellers in the plaza.

On Tuesday afternoon, Times Square was filled with people in costume, from superheroes to cartoon characters. Among them was Evan Laws, in full Batman regalia. The 25-year-old from Queens said he was there almost every day, and on a good day can make anywhere from $100 to $150 in tips. But that's dependent on him being able to move around, he said.

If he was forced to remain in one place, he said, that could cut what he makes in half. "That would be depressing," Laws said.

The union that represents some of the bus tour ticket sellers also is opposed, saying that they were being punished for the actions of a few.

"I don't see why we should be penalized because of somebody else's aggression," said Lenwood McKoy, president of Transport Workers Union Local 225, after the Monday press event, at which union members held up signs that read, "Don't kill union jobs."

Aliko Kouassi, selling bus tour tickets, said being able to move to where potential customers are is vital.

"It's a part of the business: Here no good? I can move over there," he said. "The people who move around make more money than the people who stay in one place."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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