Squeegee men, scourge of the ‘90s, are back in New York
Just when you thought they were washed up, the notorious squeegee men are streaking back to Big Apple streets.
The panhandling window-washers, who became the face of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s quality-of-life crackdown in the 1990s, were back peddling their spotty services in Manhattan over the weekend.
A trio of the in-your-face glass swabbers were spotted plying their trade on 40th Street and Ninth Avenue on Sunday — figures from the annals of New York City history that some folks weren’t in the mood for.
“Get out of the road!” yelled Randy Brechler, 62, a tourist from Florida, as he disembarked a cab. “This is a way of just panhandling. It’s forcing people to do something they don’t want to do.”
Wife Helen Brechler, 55, called the situation “scary.”
“I think it’s nerve-wracking to have somebody to come up to your car, especially in today’s world.”
Overly aggressive window washers were a mainstay of city intersections in the 1980s and 1990s, squirting car windows at stoplights without permission — and at times terrorizing motorists by threatening to break windows or windshield wipers if they didn’t receive a tip.
Guiliani used the windshield cleaners a symbol of the general disregard for law and order when he took office in 1994 — and made them a focus of his bid to improve the quality of life in the city.
Then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton deployed New York’s Finest to get the pesky beggars back on the sidewalk.
A city law passed in 1996 elevated aggressive panhandling from a violation to a misdemeanor — though it also acknowledged individuals’ constitutional right to beg “in a peaceful and non-threatening manner.”
The crackdown all but cleaned up the squeegee men, although there have been occasional sightings over the years.
One window-washing beggar remained so prolific that he had nearly 180 busts for aggressive panhandling by 2014.
Locals said the squeegee men spotted this weekend have been on the block since September, appearing mostly on weekends.
One of the window washers told The Post the part-time gig actually brings in more than the minimum-wage job he once had.
“I make enough. More than minimum wage,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “That’s a fact. I’m a vet, so I get money every month. I had a construction job.”
His partner-in-grime, who also declined to give his name, said they are generally left alone by cops — and when they are shooed along, as they were by Port Authority police Sunday, they just wait and come back when the gumshoes are gone.
“The mayor don’t want to f–k with us,” the second man said. “This is nothing. Washing windows, asking for an honest buck. It’s nothing.
“They can’t lock us up for our s–t. We’re just supporting ourselves.”
Most folks in the neighborhood didn’t have a problem with them.
“If you’re trying to make a living, and they’re doing it in a legitimate way … that’s fine,” said Will Turner, 48. “I can’t knock somebody for trying to make a dollar.”
Resident Marc Kalter agreed.
“This is New York,” he said. “This is something I’m familiar with. You didn’t see it for a while, and now it’s starting again. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it matters.”
Panhandling is legal unless beggars physically touch a person or car, block passage or prevent access to an ATM, according to city law.
NYPD officials did not respond to a request for comment.
A police source blamed 2017 criminal-justice reforms for emboldening the rogue rag men.
“We don’t even arrest people for pissing in the street anymore, why would we arrest a squeegee guy?” a police source griped.
“They know they won’t get arrested, so why wouldn’t they come back?”
Additional reporting by Tina Moore
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