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.”
But other jurisdictions have successfully instituted similar bans, Vallone said.
Las Vegas, for example, has instituted ban on peddling by people in costumes, he said.
Vallone said if his proposal succeeds, “It wouldn’t be the first time New York led the way. I’m the one who wrote the trans fat law, so it happened before.”
In the Sunday incident involving the Cookie Monster character that sparked the latest concerns, Parmita Kurada and her family were in Times Square to shop at Toys ‘R’ Us when they stopped to take pictures with the characters outside. That was when she said they were approached by Quiroz-Lopez in the Cookie Monster costume.
“We didn’t even go to him for a picture,” Kurada told CBS 2. “He just called to him, carried him, and says, ‘Come on, take pictures.’”
Police said Quiroz-Lopez demanded $2 from the Connecticut family, after they posed for the photo.
When the picture was taken, the mother said the man inside the costume demanded money. She sent her husband to an ATM, but she said after about five minutes, the costumed character began yelling obscenities at her and the children.
Prosecutors said Quiroz-Lopez pushed Kurada’s 2 1/2-year-old son, Samay, causing him to lose his balance.
Quiroz-Lopez, through his attorney, denied the allegations in court. He claimed the boy did not fall.
Contributing: Adam Harrington, CBSNewYork.com
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