Testimony from the Street Vendor Project

NYC Council Consumer Affairs Committee
re: Intro 467 (Costumed Characters)
November 19, 2014
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Hello, my name is Matthew Shapiro, I’m the staff attorney at the Street Vendor Project. Our
members sell food and merchandise from carts, trucks and tables, all across the city. We are here
today to support our brothers and sisters who wear costumes and work next to us in the street.
From thirteen years of experience, we know that NYPD officers will use every chance they get
to harass, ticket, evict and arrest self-employed people who make their living in public space.
The police department conducts strict enforcement against vendors, every day, whether or not
there are any complaints, for conduct as harmless as keeping your license in your pocket instead
of wearing it “conspicuously” at all times, as this bill will now require costumed characters to do.
This type of honest mistake will be punished by a fine as high as $500. Even if they are not
guilty, there is little our members can do to avoid these penalties. It is their word against the
officers.
Intro 467 has more things wrong with it than I can list. The definitions of “costume” and “solicit”
are vague. They may not pass constitutional muster. The bill gives officers full discretion to
determine what type of solicitation is “aggressive.” Its language is modeled after the most
notorious criminal statute on the books – “disorderly conduct,” which the police use to sweep up
homeless people, LGBT youth, street musicians, and many other powerless groups.
The licensing provision may violate the First Amendment. It certainly offends our city’s
reputation as a welcome place for immigrants, including those who are undocumented. Apart
from a blanket statement that immigration status shall not be used for licensing, the bill contains
nothing to safeguard an individual’s private information. Personal data can be obtained by
federal agencies or large corporations that seek to remove costumed characters from the streets.
Or worse.
While getting a license may sound easy, we know that often it is not. Under this bill, a license
may be withheld for “unanswered summonses” – but often the Environmental Control Board
does not allow a person to answer a summons once they have missed a hearing date, even if that
absence is due to a valid reason like a sick child. It gets worse. We have had members who lose
their wallet or have it stolen. Often they must spend a month waiting for DCA to send them a
replacement. In the meantime, they cannot work. They cannot pay their rent. They cannot
support their families.
Intro 467’s location restrictions are copied over from the vending rules that we know well. In this
context, they often make no sense. After all, costumed characters do not have tables or carts that
might block the public thoroughfare, as vendors are often accused of doing. In addition, the rules
are poorly drafted. No costumed character shall lean against the side of a building or sit on a park
bench? No license holder, whether not they are even in costume, can stand within twenty feet of

any building entrance? It is clear that costumed characters and their advocates did not participate
in this bill’s drafting.
So why is Intro 467 being proposed? We know that some of the richest and most powerful
corporations in the city have waged a campaign to get the costumed characters removed. It has
gone on for many years. You will hear from some of them today. We often fight against these
same groups, who feel that they have the right to say who is allowed in our streets and public
spaces.
Please do not do the bidding of these media moguls and real estate executives. We know there
have been a few times when costumed characters misbehaved. We believe some of these cases
have been exaggerated by the corporate media. That is not to excuse bad behavior. Anyone who
commits a crime should be punished for it, and they have been. Times Square is one of the most
highly policed areas in the city, if not the world. The NYPD should be encouraged to enforce
existing laws equally against all people who commit crimes. To the extent they are doing so, we
commend them. New legislation is not the answer. Instead, we should explore ways for the
police and the costumed characters to work together to keep Times Square, and other areas, safe
for everyone. The Street Vendor Project stands ready to assist however we can.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify today.