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NYC May Force Costumed Characters To Register With City & Wear Special Tags

Costumed characters protesting an earlier version of King's licensing bill in September 2014
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Costumed characters protesting an earlier version of King's licensing bill in September 2014 Getty

A Bronx City Council Member has quietly resurrected a dormant bill that would require costumed characters to register with the City and wear identification or risk civil, and possibly criminal, consequences—less than a month after the Council voted to confine costumed characters, desnudas and ticket sellers to designated zones within the Times Square pedestrian plaza.

"We have to identify who the people are out there," bill sponsor Andy King told us on Wednesday, referencing people who pose for photographs with tourists in exchange for tips. "When you put them in zones, you don't know if there's a pedophile or a gentleman who's wanted for murder in there. We need to weed the bad actors out."

The bill as drafted, Int. 467A, would require all "costumed individuals" who solicit for tips (face makeup counts, anything that "obscures or shrouds the face… beyond recognition") to register with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and obtain a license, to be worn at all times and "exhibited upon demand to any police officer." The NYPD would be empowered to order costumed characters—on any sidewalk, in any plaza, park, subway, or arena—to remove their head pieces for an ID check. Anyone found soliciting without proper ID would be subject to a civil penalty—$25 to $100 for the first offense, and between $100 and $250 for all subsequent offenses.

Applicants would also be required to pay a $30 registration fee to the DCA and provide proof of address, a "full-face" photograph, and a government-issued ID (IDNYC, a drivers license). The ID would be valid for two years.

The Times Square Alliance, a business-interest group that lobbied heavily for activity zones on the pedestrian plaza between 42nd and 47th streets this spring—citing a recent flood of tabloid coverage and civilian complaints about "aggressive" desnudas and costumed characters—says it didn't hear about King's plans to resurrect his 2014 legislation until several days after the activity zones legislation passed.

The Alliance did, however, endorse King's bill two years ago, amid pushback from politicians and advocates. Costumed characters protested in Times Square, and Brooklyn council member Robert Cornegy said the proposal "further criminalizes the least among us."

Yesterday, the Alliance called King's bill "potentially... another useful tool," saying it could "create credibility for the characters... in the same way a police badge or a taxi medallion does."

James Franzetti, an attorney currently representing a handful of costumed characters, countered on Wednesday that the majority of his clients' charges are dismissed in court, and that the bill, in combination with the activity zones, encourages unlawful arrests.

"This bill grants the NYPD a blank check to stop and detain these costumed characters and undoubtedly diminishes their civil rights," he said in a statement. "This bill should be read in tandem with regulation granting the DOT the authority to create activity zones in Times Square. The goal… is to fully corporatize Times Square."

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(via DOT)

Testifying on Wednesday, both the NYPD and DCA argued that the bill as-written is too lax, and called for more enforcement and regulatory power. DCA Deputy Commissioner Edwin Torres said that his agency should have the right to revoke or refuse a license, based on an applicant's criminal history. "[An ID] might signal to consumers that it is safe to transact with its holder," he said. "Creating a DCA registration without giving the agency the power to revoke or refuse undermines confidence in the DCA."

Chief William Morris of Manhattan South added that his officers would be hard pressed to discipline bad actors without any threat of criminal consequence. "The lack of any criminal penalty presents a challenge to enforcement," he said. "There would be no practical way for a police officer to properly issue a civil penalty if the character refuses to show ID. A criminal penalty must be available in order to compel the person to produce identification."

King replied that he was amenable to criminal penalties. "We need to make sure it's in there so you have the power to act," he said, adding, "We need to put the teeth in."

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Council Member King announcing his licensing bill in September 2014 (Getty).

The only civilian to testify against King's legislation on Wednesday was Jose Escalona-Martinez, a Times Square Batman who has sued the City multiple times for wrongful arrest. Sitting alone before the Council, he said that the legislation would further vilify costumed characters.

"I already have a driver's license, and my colleagues have driver's licenses," he said. "[Is this] so you guys can put us in peril? What is the meaning of giving us an ID when I already have an ID, you know?"

Escalona-Martinez and some of his fellow costumed characters balked at the activity zone legislation last month, arguing that it was drafted without their input, impedes their right to freedom of speech, and could negatively impact their business. Last month, Franzetti confirmed plans to file suit against the city on their behalf.

"The police... they don't want us to be out there," Escalona-Martinez added. "They just want to take control... [We] are just human beings. The city, the police—they put us in jail because of our reputation in the news."

King told us Wednesday morning that his original bill was "bogged down" with certain provisions, like a $175 licensing fee and a requirement that costumed characters submit fingerprints.

Somewhat ironically, King also pushed back against an early provision that the characters be relegated to certain areas within the plaza. "Caging isn't the way," he said.

Asked if he believed the new version of his bill would be detrimental to costumed characters in combination with the recently-approved activity zones, he said it would not. "It's not too much, because my legislation addresses something that theirs doesn't at all," he said.

Manhattan Council Members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, who sponsored the activity zone bill, did not immediately comment on King's bill—whether they endorsed it, or had been aware of it before their own legislation passed.

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