The City Council today voted in legislation that will empower the Department of Transportation to exact control over the city's 60-plus pedestrian plazas, likely relegating costumed characters, desnudas and ticket sellers to designated zones within the Times Square pedestrian plaza from 42nd to 47th streets as early as this summer.

The final vote on Intro 1109 was 42-1, with five abstentions.

Brooklyn Councilmember Robert Cornegy was the sole 'no' vote. "Don't knock the hustle," he said when asked about his decision. "I don't believe we should regulate or police any New Yorker out of harmless activity they rely on to keep money in their pockets and put food on the table, and that includes posing in costume and performing for tips in the transit system. To me, these expressive activities help make New York City a more vibrant, world-class city."

The legislation was backed by the Times Square Alliance, a business-interest group that raised concerns about "aggressive" desnudas and costumed characters over the summer, coinciding with a flood of tabloid coverage and calls for regulation. The Alliance teamed up with the Naked Cowboy to formally endorse the legislation last week.

The DOT has already suggested eight "activity zones" throughout the Times Square pedestrian plaza, each about the size of a city bus, where costumed characters, ticket sellers, and desnudas would be legally restricted. Designated "flow zones" would be reserved for walking.

Some costumed characters and ticket sellers have countered in recent weeks that the legislation was drafted without their input, impedes their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, and could negatively impact their business by inhibiting their movement around the plaza.


Abstaining from the vote on Thursday, Brooklyn Councilmember Antonio Reynoso expressed concern that the legislation awarded too much power to the DOT. "We have all seen community concerns fall on deaf ears as city agencies move forward," he said. "This is going to lead to a lot of tension. Keeping people corralled could have [negative] consequences, and justify the DOT kicking [costumed characters] out of Times Square altogether."

In the lead-up to Thursday's vote, bill co-sponsors Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson reiterated their position that the legislation does not impede free speech, using terms like "constitutional safeguard" and "common sense regulation."

Garodnick said that while the legislation empowers the DOT to propose rules for Times Square, the Council will "make sure" that none of the rules impose content-based restrictions on free speech, or restrict the type of activity permitted in Times Square.

James Franzetti, an attorney currently representing multiple costumed characters, counters that activity zones are inherently in violation of content-based free speech, because restricting his clients' movements will impede their ability to work. "In limiting them to certain areas, you are telling them where they can't be," he said. "The [proposed] areas are so small that it's going to be impossible for them to interact with the public."

Spider-Man and friends watch from the balcony during today's City Council vote (Katie Whittaker / Gothamist).

Last week, the NYPD confirmed that the new law empowers officers to take "civil and criminal action" against anyone who doesn't comply with the DOT's rules. Many of Franzetti's clients are currently bringing unlawful arrest suits agains the City.

"The vast majority of these cases are dismissed," Franzetti said, recalling a Cookie Monster arrested for groping a woman's breasts (Franzetti says no charges were filed), and a Batman accused of disorderly conduct. "Unlawful arrest and unlawful police interference are definitely a concern with these new rules."

Abdel Amine Elkhezzani, 37, has worked as Spider-Man in Times Square for ten years, and is represented by Franzetti. He was arrested recently after he allegedly got in a physical altercation with a customer over a tip, although he's disputing the allegations.

Elkhezzani sat in the balcony for today's vote, and stressed that he plans to keep fighting. "I will fight for my rights until the last minute," he said. "Live free or die—that's what my Spidey sense tells me."

Franzetti confirmed on Thursday that "more than five" costumed characters are prepared to file a lawsuit against the Times Square Alliance and the City, depending on the specific regulations put forward by the DOT.

Additional reporting by Katie Whittaker.