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N.Y. Bill To Cordon The Costumed From Pedestrians In Times Square

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Dangers for tourists teem in Times Square - a naked cowboy, the Cookie Monster. A man dressed as Spider-Man was arrested after brawling with a tourist over a tip last weekend, just the most recent in a string of problems between costumed characters and tourists. So New York may restrict people in costumes and tour bus ticket sellers to specific areas. New York City Councilman Daniel Garodnick has introduced a bill to empower the New York Department of Transportation to zone Times Square. He joins us from his office on 43rd Street.

Thanks so much for being with us.

DANIEL GARODNICK: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: New Yorkers need protection?

GARODNICK: As an ordinary rule, that is certainly not the case. New Yorkers are...

SIMON: Or you're just - you're trying to protect the people from Iowa who don't know what's going on.

GARODNICK: New Yorkers are tough. But I will tell you that we have seen a lot of changes in Times Square. Times Square used to be, at least in the days when I was growing up, a very unsafe place. Today, it is a victim of its own success. We have added pedestrian plazas, areas where it's much safer for people to be. But with all this extra, great space that we've added, it really has become an invitation for hawkers and hucksters of every different type and variety to prey on tourists and to do all of the things that New York City does not want to be known for.

SIMON: Are there constitutional issues involved, though? I mean, a naked cowboy ought to be able to go where he wants.

GARODNICK: Absolutely, there are core constitutional questions here. The First Amendment allows people to speak. Local governments also have the ability to say where you can speak. In Times Square, to set out certain areas where you can conduct commercial speech is well within the bounds of the Constitution so as long as we're not saying - and we most certainly are not saying - that this type of character is OK and that type of character is not.

SIMON: Now, I address this question as somebody who once got very uncomfortable when "Elmo," I put that in quotes, barked at our 9-year-old in Times Square. But don't people go to New York kind of expecting to be barked at? I mean, it's not Disneyland.

GARODNICK: Well, that's right. I think people do expect a certain level of weirdness. And that is a good thing. I mean, if you want to take a picture with a costume character or you want to take a chance on a CD from an unknown artist, go for it. We're not going to try to limit that. What we do want to do is allow you to avoid it, if you wish, in Times Square. Some people go to Times Square to pass through to go to the theater. Some people go just to take in the scene, but don't want to get too close.

You know, if you just Google your favorite superhero and type in arrested in Times Square, you're going to get a lot of hits. Come to New York and duke it out with a superhero. That is not what we want to be known for. Because of the situation that is present out there today, we believe that we need to have some areas where pedestrians can just simply pass through, don't feel like they need to interact with somebody who is looking to make a buck at their expense.

SIMON: Daniel Garodnick is a member of the New York City Council. Thanks so much for being with us.

GARODNICK: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.