By Sabina Mollot
In response to the countless news stories about topless women in body paint shilling for tips from tourists in Times Square, one response that’s been panned by pols is the idea to scrap pedestrian plazas. This was first brought up by Police Commissioner Bratton, since the Times Square plaza is where most of the complaints about professional photo bombers — both the painted women and costumed Elmos and Olafs — have been stemming from.
But while the city plans its task force to study the legality of the business being done by both groups — specifically whether these “performers’” First Amendment rights trump the rights of tourists and locals who don’t want to be accosted by them —pols have come out in defense of the plazas.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, whose district recently shifted to include the eastern half of Times Square, is one of them.
Garodnick does want the panhandling pandemonium to be addressed, though. He told Town & Village that while he’s looking at both issues, he feels it’s mostly the costumed characters rather than the painted ladies who are the bigger problem.
“The fundamental point is nobody should be harassed when they walk through Times Square or any other part of New York,” he said. “The first tool is enforcement against aggressive solicitation. We need to balance First Amendment rights with our need to ensure order and freedom to pass by without getting harassed. Sometimes it’s the painted women but most of the time it’s the costumed characters.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also issued a statement on the issue.
Brewer noted that she’s been working with a neighborhood group on the issues of costumed characters and “desnudas,” and said the city should at least get “briefed” on the conversation before doing anything hasty.
“As Borough President, I have been working with colleagues and the Times Square Alliance on a solution to the proliferation of costume characters and the ‘desnudas’,” she said.
“Those who are trumpeting a ‘task force’ should at least get briefed on the scores of meetings and proposals that have already been considered — including negotiating restricted areas, enforcement for harassing tactics and some other ideas that seemed promising but might make matters worse. For example, to register ‘performers’ might only spread the problem to other locations. Until the mayor spoke out, no one who funded, designed, built, maintained or enjoyed car-free Times Square thought the plazas should be destroyed.
“I join those who want a sensible solution — and there are several workable ones already on the table thanks to those who have been grappling with this issue for some time.”