UPDATE Saturday morning: In a lead editorial titled “Shirtless Bodies In Pointless War,” the New York Times this morning took aim at the beleaguered Daily News with a New York Post-style headline (echoing that tabloid’s famous “Headless Body In Topless Bar” banner from decades back). “The News, horrified at the rampant shirtlessness, put these frightening women on Page 1 for four straight days. (Its usual spot for breasts is Page 3),” the Times mocked, referring to the semi-naked painted women prowling the Theater District for tips. “[D]istressingly, our leaders took the bait,” the Paper of Record added. Of course, the Times itself had put the Problem That Really Isn’t A Problem on its own Page 1 just a day earlier, as Deadline reported yesterday.
Friday: Now that the Topless Painted Ladies have made the front page of the New York Times, it’s probably time to unmask the true hustlers in this Theater District freak show: That would be Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a naked display of one-upsmanship that puts the tawdry Times Square of the Midnight Cowboy era to shame.
To recap the issue: In the years since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned the area into a car-free mall mottled with café tables and chairs for malingerers, Broadway and Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 50th streets has been overrun by selfie-stick strutting rubes, ticket hawkers for Broadway shows and comedy clubs, and long lines snaking around the discount TKTS booth. Also roving packs of greasy-furred Elmos, Spandexed Spider-Men and lurid green-faced Lady Liberties teetering on stilts. In recent months, the mob has been augmented by desnudas, shapely double-breasted women wearing nothing but thongs and heavy patriotic body paint, along with feathered headdresses. Their numbers have been increasing with each passing summer week, though surely they will be gone by November as nature does what civic law cannot, for the moment, do.
All of these annoying denizens are out for one thing: Cash from the crowds in exchange for the pleasure of having their picture taken. Some are more aggressive than others, but mostly the law is on the side of the motley hustlers, even the topless ones, because in New York, it’s OK for any of the various sexes to go topless except in public parks, which so far, the Times Square Mall is not.
That was the situation until last week, when, prompted by the trumped-up outrage of New York’s tabloid papers, and especially the beleagured New York Daily News, our warring mayor and governor decided to weigh in on this terrible threat to the public’s right to enjoy the vivid smells and sights of Times Square in August absent the shocking sight of a heavily painted breast. Both the mayor and the governor being hustlers of the first order, they have put aside their feud over minor issues like public health (Legionnaire’s Disease), afforable housing and education to put the spotlight on this Moral Crisis Endangering Us All.
On Friday even the Gray Lady got into the act with a Page One story headlined “Going Topless In Times Square: A Legal View,” which boldly concluded that the effort to single out the desnudas for elimination from the district might raise free-speech issues — a particularly embarrassing spectacle for the liberal governor and the even more liberal, progressive-agenda pursuing mayor.
In the latest development, de Blasio says he wants to rethink the whole pedestrian-mall thing — which is odd only because as Mayor, one of his priorities has been reducing traffic-related pedestrian fatalities and injuries by lowering the local speed limit. Whatever one thinks of the mall idea, pedestrians are more likely to bump into flesh than into metal when traversing the crossroads of the world, these days.
Still, as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put it through her spokeswoman Robin Levine, “there are many, many more serious issues facing New York City which deserve our immediate attention and this is not one of them.” Unless, of course, you’re a tabloid needing to sell papers during the dog days of August or an ambitious pol who really needs a summer vacation.