NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. introduced legislation Tuesday that would either ban or introduce tight regulations on costumed characters in New York City.
The proposal comes in the wake of several incidents involving the costumed characters in Times Square. Most recently, a man dressed as Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street” was arrested this past Sunday after allegedly shoving a 2 1/2-year-old boy.
Vallone told CBSNewYork.com that he had introduced two separate bills to combat the problems with costumed characters.
One bill would require registration, as well as a permission slip proving that the character involved has been licensed, for anyone appearing as a costumed character. The other bill would go farther to ban costumed characters outright.
“Clearly, the situation can’t continue to exist the way it does, and the laws we already have don’t deal with the situation,” said Vallone, a Democrat from the 22nd District.
The most recent alleged shoving incident with the man in the Cookie Monster costume – Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, 33, of Queens – was just the tip of the iceberg, Vallone said.
“We’ve had an anti-Semitic Elmo. We’ve had a groping Mario. And now we have a shoving monster,” Vallone said. “And I might be old, but I don’t remember ‘Sesame Street’ being R-rated.”
Damon Torres, 32, was charged in December with groping a woman while dressed as Mario of video game fame. In another well-publicized incident, Philip Williams, 35, was accused of punching a woman in the face while in a Spider-Man costume after the woman said she didn’t have any money to pay for a photo with her children.
Vallone said he has spoken with Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins, who agreed that “something needs to be done,” and will be working with the councilman on the legislation. Disney and Nickelodeon, whose characters are represented without license by the costumed performers, will also be involved, Vallone said.
Tompkins told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond that action is indeed mandated.
“We’ve reached a critical point where this needs to be addressed,” Tompkins said. “Times Square is Times Square. A little bit of quirky is OK. A lot of creepy is not OK.”
As it stands now, Vallone said, police do not have the proper tools to deal with the situation.
A disorderly conduct charge would require blocking pedestrian traffic, which the costumed characters are not always doing, Vallone explained. Licensing laws only come into play when someone is selling something, and laws prohibiting wearing masks require two people working together, he said.
“Nothing that exists right now really gives the police the tools to deal with this the way they want to,” Vallone said.
The characters are not regulated, but are instead considered street performers protected by the First Amendment. Tompkins said that is the main issue.
Tompkins likewise told Diamond, “What we’re being told is that there aren’t a lot of tools in the NYPD’s toolbox.”