Costumed Characters NYC: Santa Claus Says Times Square Elmos Should Be Licensed

A child advocate whose legal name is Santa Claus spoke with IBTimes from his home in North Pole, Alaska.

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In a rare July interview, Santa Claus said New York City lawmakers need to take costumed panhandlers seriously. Photo Courtesy of Santa Claus

A message for all those unruly costumed characters harassing tourists in Times Square: You just made Santa’s naughty list.

As International Business Times reported last week, New York City lawmakers are mulling legislation aimed at cracking down on the swarms of Mickeys, Elmos, Spider-Mans and other costumed nuisances whose aggressive panhandling has local residents and tourists fed up. In response to our report, we received an email from none other than Jolly Old St. Nick himself.

No, it wasn’t a joke.

Santa Claus is the legal name of a volunteer child advocate who lives in the town of North Pole, Alaska. A practicing Christian monk, Claus changed his name a decade ago after experiencing what he believes was a sign from God. These days he spends most of his time speaking with state, local and federal lawmakers and advocating for stronger child-protection laws.   

Claus contacted IBTimes to express his support for legislation that would make Times Square safer for children. While he lives in Alaska now, New York City is close to his heart. He completed his doctoral coursework at New York University, where he attended more than three decades ago, and he even served under Mayor John Lindsay as a special assistant to the city’s deputy police commissioner.   

Claus offered to speak in greater detail about what he thinks should be done about the Times Square costume mob, so we took him up on it. It’s the middle of July -- what better time for a Q&A with Father Christmas?

Claus spoke with International Business Times by phone on Friday from his home in North Pole, Alaska.

International Business Times: Thank you for speaking with me. When was the last time you were in Times Square?

Santa Claus: It’s been a few years.

IBT: Well, in the last two or three years, it’s gotten considerably worse. There are literally dozens of these costumed characters on any given day, and they’re very aggressive. I was there recently and there was a Spider-Man in a dirty costume snapping tourists with a rubber band. What can we do about this?

Claus: I would personally like to see legislation that requires costumed characters -- particularly if their faces are hidden -- to be licensed and bonded, so people have some recourse. Going through the bonding process is particularly rigorous. Then, if they misbehave, there’s a way of securing monetary damages.

IBT: What about the idea that it’s a First Amendment issue, and people generally have a right to walk around in a costume on a public street?

Claus: They do. But when they’re working with children, in particular, I think there should be more protections. I think they should be vetted pretty thoroughly first. From a child advocate’s perspective, I would like to see children, the elderly and infirmed protected from people whose faces you can’t even see.

elmo Dan Sandler, dressed as the Muppet character Elmo, is handcuffed and detained by police after using anti-Semitic language in Times Square, in this file picture taken September 18, 2012.  Reuters/Adrees Latif

IBT: Some people would argue that harassment is already illegal, so why do we need special legislation targeting just people who dress up in costumes?

Claus: Well, it’s a lot harder to hold people accountable if you can’t tell who they are.

IBT: I would imagine Disney doesn’t like the idea that people dressed up as Mickey Mouse are walking around half-drunk, but they don’t seem interested in talking about this issue. One state senator has called on the companies that own the copyrights to these characters to get more involved. What do you think about that?

Claus: I think it probably isn’t worth them opening up that can of worms -- being countersued by whoever the person is dressing up as one of their characters.

IBT: Do think this puts a bad light on people in general dressing up in costumes and street performing?

Claus: There’s a difference between [what’s happening in Times Square] and busking, a huge difference. We’ve seen buskers through the years and they are, for the most part, pretty harmless.

IBT: Have you heard of SantaCon? That seems to get bigger and rowdier every year.

Claus: Yeah, I don’t do any of that stuff.

IBT: Why did you change your name to Santa Claus and move to Alaska?

Claus: I changed my name when I still lived in Lake Tahoe. I’d been a child advocate for a while before that, but often it’s tough to get the attention of legislators. As you well know, it’s nice to have a good hook for a story. But it’s tough saying, “Hi, this is Santa from Lake Tahoe.” So I thought if I want to get a bigger bang for the name, all I have to do is move to the North Pole.

IBT: Do you get letters from kids telling you what they want for Christmas?

Claus: I try to discourage it. Since I’ve been doing this a long time, I basically make it difficult for them to find my address.

IBT: Do they find you on Facebook?

Claus: Yeah, sometimes. If they do it on my page, I’ll delete it, because I have a request at the top of the page saying, “Please do not send me a request for presents.” And believe it or not, with 293,000 or so followers, I’ve already blocked about 6,000. You’ll get people writing “You fat bastard,” you know, that kind of stuff, every once in a while.

IBT: Thank you again. I actually think this is an important issue, because it has made Times Square less pleasant, in my opinion. Whether it’s this legislation or something else, I hope they figure out a way to deal with it.

Claus: I just had a funny thought. What if the police department dressed up like the Avengers and went in there and rounded these people up?   

IBT: I think that would make an incredible YouTube video.

Claus: You know who could shoot the video is Jimmy Kimmel.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Santa Claus, visit his Facebook page, but please, don’t ask him for presents.

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