Times Square's costumed superheroes fight back against bad press

Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:54am EDT
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By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After a spate of arrests and bad publicity, the costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs in New York's Times Square in the hopes of a cash tip have formed an association to preserve a livelihood that has come under increasing scrutiny.

Dozens of people dressed as Spider-Man, Batman, Elmo, Mickey Mouse and other children's favorites, roam the crowded sidewalks and pedestrian plazas around Times Square each day, beckoning toward passing kids and their camera-toting parents.

But city officials from the mayor down have painted them as pests who harass the city's visitors. Police have arrested several performers in recent months, and began handing out flyers at the weekend telling tourists to call the 911 emergency number with any complaints about the characters.

The new association - a sort of cross between an informal union and The Justice League - wants to fight back against that image, according to Yamil Morales, one of the group's organizers.

"We're people who want to be treated as workers with dignity and not be treated as cartoon characters just because we wear a mask," Morales said in Spanish, speaking through an interpreter. A large number of the performers are immigrants from Latin America.

They are calling themselves the Association of Artists United for a Smile, a name chosen to reflect their claim that a tourist's happiness is no less important than any tip he or she might give.

Morales, a Colombian living in New York City who spends 40 minutes each day getting dressed up as the Penguin, says he came up with the idea along with a Batman.

More than 100 characters have since joined, he said, and dozens of them met early on Tuesday at the offices of La Fuente, an advocacy group for immigrant workers.   Continued...

Jorge, an immigrant from Mexico, poses with women while dressed as the Sesame Street character Elmo in Times Square, New York in this July 30, 2014, file photo. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Files