Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking on the topless women of Times Square. He tapped two men to head a multi-agency task force on the issue and says he is even considering ripping up the pedestrian plaza at the world's most famous intersection to crack down on the women and others who pose for pictures for tips. NY1's Grace Rauh filed this report.
It has been a bumpy summer for Mayor Bill de Blasio but he appears to think that going after topless women in Times Square may help him bounce back.
"As a human being and a parent, I don't think it's appropriate in the middle of one of the busiest squares in New York City that women should display themselves that way," de Blasio says.
The mayor is creating a task force to tackle the "painted women," as he calls them, and the other costumed characters who pose for photos for tips. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod will lead the group.
The mayor says he is also considering ripping out the pedestrian plaza in Times Square to crack down on aggressive panhandling. His police commissioner floated the idea earlier in the day.
"That's my preferred option. I'd prefer to just dig the whole darn thing up and put it back the way it was where Broadway is Broadway and not a dead-end street," says Bratton.
The idea drew an immediate backlash from transit advocates, City Council members and local leaders.
"It just doesn't make sense to me to say because we can't figure out how to deal with a handful of hustlers and petty theives we are going to tell 450,000 people who walk through Times Square every day that they should go back to walking through the street—because that's what happened before we had the plazas," says Times Square Alliance Tim Tompkins.
In response to the idea of tearing down the plaza, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “The introduction of the pedestrian plazas has been a positive change to the urban landscape, giving Times Square much-needed open space and improving pedestrian safety. To shut it down would be a serious overreaction to what is essentially a quality of life enforcement issue.”
As for the taskforce, the mayor says he expects a report back with possible solutions no later than October 1. He suggested that the City Council would need to pass legislation as well to regulate the women and others.
"We want to do this right because we want it to stick but there will be new types of enforcement in Times Square based on the work of this task force," de Blasio says.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that this issue may be a good one politically for the mayor. He gets to talk tough and act tough: two characteristics New Yorkers seem to prize in their mayors.