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Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Times Square’s costumed characters speak out against proposed regulations

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason

Local government can really bring ‘toons together. Batman, the Joker, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse all made appearances in front of the City Council on Wednesday to protest proposed legislation that would regulate costumed street performers in New York. (Who needs Saturday morning cartoons when you have participatory democracy?)

The bill, sponsored by City Councilman Andy King from the Bronx, would require professional characters to obtain a license before hanging out on the street in costume. They would have to pay a $170 registration fee every two years, along with a one-time $75 finger printing fee. In addition, sex offenders and those with a criminal history could potentially be barred from obtaining a license.

At the hearing, street characters argued that the new law would place undue financial stress on the costumed community, and violate their right to free speech. They also managed to squeeze in a few photo ops. 

According to the New York Post, The Joker (aka Keith Albahae) likened the possible regulations to “fascism” and characterized it as “discriminatory”. The post also reported that Batman (José Escalona Martinez) cited the Constitution in a spirited argument against the bill, saying “The First Amendment protects the characters."

On any given day, there are between 50 and 80 costumed characters in Times Square according to the city’s tourism bureau, NYC & Company.

In the last year, there have been 18 arrests of unruly characters across the city. The Times Square Alliance, a proponent of increased regulation, is asking anyone who has been harassed by street characters to tweet about their experience using the hashtag: #ElmoYouDont.

Elmo was not available for comment.

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