The city and the Times Square Alliance attempt to regulate the costume characters that roam the square. Alicia Powell reports.
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After a wave 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 and other children's favorites, roam the crowded sidewalks beckoning toward kids and their camera-toting parents.
But city officials from the mayor down have painted them as pests and have begun handing out flyers telling tourists that the photographs are free and tipping is optional.
Joshua, who works as the cartoon character Buzz Lightyear, says he has been making less money since the signs about tipping were posted.
SOUNDBITE: Joshua, cartoon character, saying (English):
"Business is slow. You saw the cops. They are putting up signs already all over Times Square saying don't tip the guys. And I have a son. I got my apartment. I got bills, my cell phone to pay. Before I used to make a good amount of money. But this job now, I went down to $35 (USD) a day because now every cop is harassing me."
Gia Storms with the Times Square Alliance says the flyers and posters about tipping are part of an aggressive crackdown.
SOUNDBITE: Gia Storms, Times Square Alliance, saying (English):
"Times Square is America's Town Square. It's the heart of New York City and we like to say that quirky is fine, but creepy is not. So we are trying to protect those that live and work here and those that are coming to New York City for the first time, so it's a great experience for all."
However, Lucia Gomez of La Fuente, says the costumed characters have formed a group called 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.
SOUNDBITE: Lucia Gomez, La Fuente, saying (English):
"They are the good part of Times Square that I think we are all fortunate to have because they make up what the amazing part of New York City is - everyone makes it in the Big Apple and that's a good example of that."
And when it comes to the tourist, the reactions are mixed.
SOUNDBITE: Phillip, tourist, saying (English):
"Before I saw the sign, I thought tipping was required and I don't want to be aggressed for a tip."
SOUNDBITE: Catherine, tourist, saying (English):
"I think it's wonderful, but we just got here today, a few minutes ago. I didn't even see Mickey over there, but I saw the Statue of Liberty. Cool, very cool."
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