New York governor joins calls for Times Square crackdown on topless women
Two men having a picture taken with body-painted women in New York City's Times Square (Steven Pisano/Flickr)

New York’s governor has joined calls by Mayor Bill de Blasio for a crackdown on topless women who work in Times Square.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said that he opposes the activities of the group of women – known as “desnudas”, the Spanish word for nude – who pose for photos while covered in little more than red, white and blue paint.

“I believe it is infringing on legitimate businesses,” Cuomo told local news station NY1. “I think it is infringing on the investment that the state and the city made in the 42nd Street area, and I think it has to be stopped.”

His comments echoed those of De Blasio, who said on Tuesday that he thought the activity was wrong and needed to be regulated.

“We are going to look for every appropriate way to regulate all activity that involves either begging, or asking people for a contribution based on, you know, the opportunity to take a picture, for example,” De Blasio said at a news conference. “I don’t like the situation in Times Square, and we’re going to address it in a very aggressive manner.”

Women have been allowed to go topless in New York since 1992, and these particular performers have been in Times Square since at least 2013 . They may also be protected under the first amendment’s free speech provisions.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t find legislative and regulatory solutions that still fall within constitutional protections,” De Blasio said.

On Wednesday afternoon, one woman clad in a red and blue lace-trimmed thong ignored questions from the Guardian, while media and public cameras, primarily operated by men, swarmed around her. One man approached her from behind, took a close-up photo of her backside, which was painted with the letters “NY”, and abruptly walked away.

A man sitting nearby, protecting her belongings, repeatedly said she would not do interviews.

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Cuomo said that the scene of topless women reminds him of the “bad old Times Square,” which was home to porn shops and drug dealers, instead of the bright advertisements and throngs of tourists that now dominate the area.

On Wednesday, however, there were far more costumed street performers than topless women. The collection of superheroes and Elmos have been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years after a spate of aggressive incidents directed at tourists and police .

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told The New York Times that these characters frequently harass tourists in an effort to make money.

“This is happening thousands of times a week,” Tompkins said. “If I spend 10 minutes in Times Square, I will witness someone being deeply upset.” © Guardian News and Media 2015