The arrest of a 54-year-old man in a red Elmo suit for allegedly groping a 14-year-old girl must mark the end of the free rein of the costumed characters in Times Square. Let there be a simple new rule, strictly enforced, for all species of hawkers: keep pitches to the set-aside areas of the pedestrian plazas.
Back in the summer of 2015, spurred by four days in a row of Daily News front pages about the chaos of topless women and superheroes and furry friends at the Crossroads of the World, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council passed regulations for the teeming Times Square plazas.
So, since 2016 the former Broadway roadway has been divided into sections: One for movement, the flow-zone; one for passive doings like sitting or eating; and one for activities like picture-taking with Mickey and Minnie for tips. The unclothed and the costumed were to keep their profit-making enterprises confined to these designated activity zones, marked as rectangles with paint or tape on the pavement.
The intent of the law was for all three steps in a transaction — the solicitation, the negotiation and consummation (photo and cash payment) — to happen in the designated area. But the NYPD and city lawyers aren’t reading the statute as it was intended, claiming that only the photo and payment must be in the box. Thus the hustlers roam.
There’s a draft bill in the Council to keep the characters in the box where they belong. It’s not Elmo’s world, it’s ours.