Mayor de Blasio ‘not quite sure why’ people stand in cold for Times Square ball drop

He’s the mayor of New York City ... right? It doesn’t exactly come with the job, but calling the shots when the big ball drops over Times Square on New Year’s Eve is one of the perks that comes with being the boss of the Big Apple. So, naturally, it raised a few eyebrows Thursday when Mayor de Blasio threw a little shade on the time-tested tradition of crowding the Crossroads of the World to usher in the new year. “New Year’s Eve we expect as per usual, over a million people. I’m not quite sure why a million people want to stand in the freezing cold for long, long periods of time,” said de Blasio, who sounded more like the mayor of Keokuk, Iowa, than the mayor of New York City. “But they do, and we will be ready for them.” De Blasio was trying to add a little levity to the sensitive topic of Times Square security following recent terrorist truck attacks in Nice and Berlin. The mayor was at a Times Square news conference trying to reassure the public that the city’s police department stands ready to thwart any plans for a similar attack in Manhattan. But even New York’s Finest were not prepared for a Times Square takedown from the man who is supposed to be the city’s biggest cheerleader. De Blasio has been doing some cheering, though. He did tout the completion of the neighborhood’s pedestrian plaza. “Times Square is now a safer and more welcoming place for the millions of residents, commuters and tourists who visit and pass through it every day,” he said of the plaza a day earlier. But even if Hizzoner couldn’t understand the fascination with one of the most iconic celebrations in American history, that won’t stop the locals and tourists from lining up as early 8 a.m. for a choice spot. And despite the diss, de Blasio was scheduled to attend the ball drop Continue Reading

The not-so-naked city as Times Square gets its coverup

New York finally has an official blueprint to hem in the swarms of prancing selfie-hustlers and touts — furry, near-naked and otherwise — who have had the run of Times Square for too long. And, in contrast to at least a few of the Elmos who have the run of the place, it’s a sane one. Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and City Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod must now swiftly follow through on their plans to restore some semblance of order to the barely controlled, unsavory, tourist-cheating chaos that has overrun the Crossroads of the World. After the Daily News, um, exposed the recent surge in number of topless women who, along with Spider-Men and others, all but pry tips from the hands of tourists — a quality-of-life nightmare in the center of Manhattan — Bratton, Weisbrod and other officials put their heads together at the mayor’s request. Wisely, the group embraced a well-considered plan from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmen Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, and the Times Square Alliance. Above all, it calls for keeping Times Square’s now almost-completed pedestrian plazas right where they are — and for setting aside limited zones and times of day for performers’ antics. Makes sense, with success depending on something that’s been sorely lacking in other parts of the city where people cluster by the thousands: enforcement. The NYPD has already deployed a squad of officers to patrol Times Square exclusively, allowing them to get to know its currents and characters, costumed and otherwise. They’ll have to get to know the new lay of the land and communicate it clearly, and sternly. Much now rests on the City Council, called upon to reincarnate the plazas as a newfangled “public place” — not quite a park, not quite a street — where city officials and the Alliance have legal authority to manage goings-on. The Continue Reading

Guest column: Times Square performers are not artists, they’re hustlers

Some people claim that the painted naked ladies in Times Square are just engaging in artistic expression. They are wrong. This is both a business and an aggressive shakedown. It’s the same claim people have made for over five years now about the creepy costume characters who routinely grope women; aggressive CD hawkers who surround and intimidate naive teenagers, and fake Buddhist monks who have been documented as sophisticated con artists. It goes without saying that we have no issue with artistic expression. What we — and our patrons, who bring billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the fastest-growing part of New York City’s economy since the 2008 recession — have an issue with is the aggressive and unrelenting hustle, with thousands of victims a week. NYC OFFICIALS WANT TO CURB TIMES SQUARE TOPLESS PERFORMERS It’s also about letting people choose what they see and engage with. Times Square is now a place where families bring their children, and when families and children have no choice about being approached by an aggressive, naked lady demanding money for a photo, that’s just not right. All of these people say they are “just trying to earn a living” — so were the three-card monte players 20 years ago. So regulate the honest player just like any other enterprise, and put the hustlers and con artists out of business. Or do what they do in San Francisco and Santa Monica, Ocean City and Las Vegas — designate certain areas for these activities so the public can choose whether they want to be approached, instead of the other way around. Just don’t say that nothing can be done. We heard it before when Times Square and New York City were spiraling out of control, and we didn’t believe it then, either. TOURISTS ANNOYED BY PAINTED NAKED LADIES IN TIMES SQUARE Victoria Bailey is Continue Reading

Credit Giuliani with new Times Square?

Times Square is crammed with tourists, and not just for New Year's Eve. These days, they're eager to gawk at the glittering lights of Broadway and visit attractions like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and the MTV studios. But 15 years ago, the place was considered a cesspool, overrun with crime and home to sex shops and peep shows. Drug addicts shot up on the street. Locals avoided the neighborhood. The man who has taken the credit for revitalizing Times Square is GOP presidential hopeful and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He has made Times Square a symbol for how he tamed the evils of an out-of-control city and turned it into a tourist-friendly destination. "It's called getting things done," he said at a fundraiser this year. It's not that clear-cut, a closer examination of the Times Square renaissance shows. While even his critics will say Giuliani deserves praise for his part in redevelopment of the area, the finished product was the culmination of decades of work that came before he was elected, according to lawmakers and urban planners. "State agencies had plans in place to develop 42nd Street well before Giuliani," said Ethel Sheffer, an urban planning expert who led a quality-of-life study on Times Square during the redevelopment. Any large-scale redevelopment "takes a long time to unfold," she said. The Times Square plan was in the works during the 1980s, when state officials and then-Mayor Ed Koch used eminent domain to condemn and take control of decrepit buildings. But there was no legal way to control businesses until the City Council initiated a study during the administration of David Dinkins, who preceded Giuliani as mayor, that would allow them to pass rezoning laws if they could prove sex businesses were harming residential areas. Walter McCaffrey, a former City Council member, said the idea to rezone wasn't even related to Times Square at first. It started with a neighborhood in Queens near the Queensboro Bridge that had suffered when Continue Reading

Q&A: Times Square ball operator

TONY CALVANO AGE: 63 JOB: Owner of Landmark Signs HOURS/WEEK: 40 to 60 TIME ON THE JOB: 40 years This New Year's Eve, Times Square will have a new ball. It comes with 672 Waterford crystal triangles and state-of-the-art LED lights, making it twice as bright as its predecessor. Has the technology behind the ball drop changed as much as the ball itself? In the last 20 years, I've only missed two years. We used to do it with ropes. You'd pull the ball up the pole on pulleys and let it down gradually, with somebody holding a clock, and we had mark-ers on the pole every 5 feet. The person holding the clock would tell us to go faster or slower. Now, we're in synch with national time in Denver, and we're right to the split second. At 11:59 p.m., the button is pressed and the ball starts coming down the pole. How many people are up there making it all happen? Before 9/11, our families were allowed up there to celebrate with us, but now nobody's allowed up there except working people. I need three separate passes to get up to the ball. There are our 10 working people, plus the NYPD and FDNY, because we have all the fireworks. It's on the roof, so we don't actually see the crowd, because we're 15 feet below the coping where the numbers are sitting. Nobody knows we exist. Not having a fear of heights must be pretty important. The top of the roof is 340 feet, and the pole is 77 feet above that, but this is the only business you start at the top and you work your way down. At the beginning of your career, you have to do the climbing. Do you get nervous about everything working properly? It's definitely very stressful. You only get one shot to do this. There are millions of people watching, and there are no retakes. How do you make sure everything's ready on the big day? December 31 is a long day for me. At 6 p.m., we do the pole-raising. We take the ball from the ground and take it to the top of the pole. Then we have a break, so I have dinner with my family and friends, then at Continue Reading

Happy mob swarms through Times Square as faithful surf on cars

Pandemonium erupted across the city Sunday night as delirious fans danced in the streets, sidewalks and even atop cars in celebration of the Giants' improbable Super Bowl victory. Traffic came to a standstill in Times Square moments after Big Blue's 17-14 win as cops on horseback struggled to contain the surging crowd. "I don't know all the words in the dictionary, but I don't think Webster has a word to describe how I feel," Danell Willis, 24, of Crown Heights, crowed. "It's indescribable." The crowd, a throbbing sea of red and blue, broke out in spontaneous chants of "Let's Go Giants," "Boston Sucks" and "18 and 1," referring to the Patriots now-tarnished record. On the upper East Side, revelers invaded the streets and began dancing on top of cars. "I'm so glad we did this against the Patriots," said Marc Joseph, 37, of Brooklyn. "You know how we hate Boston. They got us in the World Series, but we got 'em back tonight." In Brooklyn, the scene was no less uproarious. Moments after the Giants' win was sealed, streets from Bay Ridge to Bensonhurst were flooded with crazed fans. Fire trucks roared down the boulevards with their lights on and horns blaring. A naked woman jumped out of a black SUV and ran around it - to the delight of the crowd. An elderly man was seen throwing his crutches to the ground and doing a little jig on the sidewalk. "This is the greatest Super Bowl ever," said Wade Papas, a 30-year-old stockbroker. "This is better than sex." Joe Jordan, a 28-year-old reporter for the Brooklyn Paper, agreed - sort of. "This is the best game I've ever seen. Period," he said. "I never thought I'd live to see New York win another Super Bowl." Big Blue's win also guaranteed that one Brooklyn couple would remember last night forever. In the waning moments of the game, Robbie Kiers got down on his knees inside the Pourhouse on Third Ave. and asked for the hand of his girlfriend, Charisse Rubio. "Baby, will you Continue Reading

Arrest John, er… Eliot, right now!

Washington, but the arrangements and the payment were made in New York. So, by his own admission, Eliot Spitzer violated the same state prostitution law he toughened with such zeal last year. Whether or not federal prosecutors indict him over the money involved, simple justice demands he be arrested right now for violating Section 230.03 of the New York State Penal Code. The provision states a person is guilty of patronizing a prostitute if he "pays or agrees to pay a fee to another person pursuant to an understanding that in return therefore such person or a third person will engage in sexual conduct with him." Until last May, it was a B misdemeanor, punishable by three months in jail. Spitzer then signed legislation making it an A misdemeanor, carrying up to a year. "Suppressing the demand for prostitution," his press release declared. The penal code has no provision for hypocrisy, but Section 230.03 is enough to drag Spitzer into Midtown Community Court, on W. 54th St., which handles quality-of-life offenses, including the vast majority of Manhattan's prostitution cases. Spitzer already knows presiding Judge Richard Weinberg. Back when he was at Harvard Law School, Spitzer interned for Weinberg, then an assistant state attorney general. Spitzer should have paid closer attention to Weinberg's legal philosophy, one not taught in the Ivy League, but by life as lived in this city. In Weinberg's view, the law should be stern when necessary, but always fair, compassionate at heart, though never a pushover, and also never tough just for the sake of being tough. Now on the bench as Manhattan's "King of Prostitution," Weinberg puts himself in the other person's shoes but does not allow those shoes to walk all over him. He insists defendants say "yes" rather than "yeah" and you had better not chew gum when you step before him. But you can count on some understanding if you are, say, a woman who fell into prostitution in her early teens then quit for Continue Reading

Fall is the best time to buy a new A/C—this ‘smart’ one is over 50% off right now

— Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. However, our picks and opinions are independent from USA TODAY’s newsroom and any business incentives.Fall is here, but the weather's still warmer than usual across the country. If you're sick of the heat, or you just want to be prepared for next summer, you might want to check out Amazon's Deal of the Day.Right now, the entire Kenmore Elite Smart Air Conditioner lineup is on sale on Amazon. The 8,000 BTU model is only $175, marked down $205 from $379. That will cool down up to 350 square feet of space. Need more power? There are four other models with incrementally larger capacities, all at least 50% off.Most air conditioning window units these days come with a remote. But they're often small and easily lost. The smart AC from Kenmore gets around this by turning your phone into the remote. You can start, stop, and adjust this air conditioner from anywhere, even if you're not home. Think of the savings!The Kenmore Smart AC, like countless other smart devices, also works with Amazon Alexa. You don't even need to reach for your phone if you have an Echo in your home. Simply ask Alexa to set your air conditioner to your ideal temperature. Get an 8,000 BTU Kenmore Smart Air Conditioner on Amazon for $175 and save over $200. Don't need an air conditioner right now, but still itching to shop? Amazon has plenty of other great sales on home goods. A sunrise alarm clock that can help you wake up naturally—$22.09 (save $6) A chrome cabinet door hair styling organizer for you bathroom—$15.30 (save $5) A best-selling hypoallergenic down alternative comforter to stay cozy—$25.39 (save $5) Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time. Continue Reading

Why ‘Jurassic World’ star Chris Pratt and ‘Scary Movie’ queen Anna Faris are Hollywood’s coolest hot couple right now

Hollywood can’t get enough of its coolest couple, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, and it’s not because they’re buying each other 7,000-square-foot basketball courts like Kim and Kanye. For years, Pratt, now an action hero with “Jurassic World,” was known as lovable, dopey Andy on the TV show, “Parks and Recreation.” Anna Faris played Cindy Campbell in the unforgettable “Scary Movie” film series and now has a hit TV show, “Mom.” But besides that, here are the top 10 reasons why Pratt and Faris are Hollywood’s coolest couple right now: 1: They’re creative : Anyone — we’re looking at you, Kimye — can spend millions on a lavish wedding at a Tuscan palace, but Pratt and Faris had a small ceremony in 2009 on Bali in Indonesia with just two other people; the priest and an employee who filmed the interview. They were originally in Indonesia for a friend’s wedding when they decided, on the fly, to exchange vows themselves. 2 : They’ re into bugs : In an interview on The Late Late Show, Pratt and Faris hooked up not because of looks or money, but because they both collected dead bugs. Faris reportedly “cried tears of joy” when Pratt took her over to show her his collection for the first time. She revealed that she shared the same cooky interest and the two have been collecting bugs together ever since. 3: She loves him even when he’s ugly : Everyone has been raving about Pratt's transformation from lardass to leading man. But the hunk admitted to GQ that his wife liked him better when he was fat. Faris told Redbook, “I just remember being grumpy because there was no food in the house. I love to cook really fattening things like steak and pasta and potatoes.” 4: They’re personable : Their Instagram accounts are filled with selfies, goofy faces, and funny captions — like most celebrities’. But unlike Ashton Kutcher Continue Reading

Pop-up forest in Times Square hits first funding goal

New York City is no slouch when it comes to green space, but a temporary installation is now in the works to bring nature right into the heart of New York's urban jungle. Ecologist Marielle Anzelone is behind "PopUP Forest: Times Square," a project to create an "urban oasis" that's just surpassed its inital $25,000 funding goal on Kickstarter. The plan: In the middle of the night, Anzelone and her team will install towering trees, native wildflowers, shrubs, mosses and ferns in a public plaza in Times Square, providing an immersive natural experience in what the campaign page calls "the most unnatural place on the planet." Guided woodland walks, interpretive signs and hands-on activities for kids would help visitors navigate the new natural setting, while nature sounds would be streamed live from Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park. After three weeks, the pop-up would be dismantled and the greenery used in small parks and schoolyards around the city. The first $25,000 has been earmarked for the installation's design, as well the creation of a protoype "PopUP" in Gowanus, Brooklyn in summer 2015. A tentative target date of June 2016 is set for the Times Square pop-up. Backers who pledge as little as $5 will see their name on the website, while higher donations come with access to a head-cam tour of Inwood Park, a wildflower seed mix, a T-shirt, an illustrated botanical print, a tailor-made native plant garden design or a private tour of Inwood Hill Park led by Anzelone. With 18 days to go, the project is now moving toward a goal of $40,000, which would allow for the installation to take on a larger scale. Find the project on Kickstarter: Join the Conversation: Continue Reading