The New Jersey venue where at least 150 people gathered Thursday night for the New York Young Republican Club’s annual gala was shuttered on Friday amid public outcry and another coronavirus wave in the tri-state area.
The 108th annual gala—which was supposed to feature star speaker Sarah Palin before she backed out—was held at the Maritime Parc in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park after the group appeared to scrap plans to hold it across the river in New York. Videos and images posted on Twitter showed attendees gathered inside, flouting COVID-19 guidelines.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop blasted the event as “an egregious violation” of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. In a statement to The Daily Beast on Friday morning, he said the “establishment has been ordered closed” until it submits a written operational plan to the Health Department on how it’s complying with capacity mandates and mask wearing.
“The Health Dept and Prosecutors Office take COVID Enforcement seriously,” Fulop said.
But while the GOP event—at which Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe also spoke—has prompted outrage from New Jersey officials, those who attended didn’t seem to care about the ongoing pandemic.
It appears the event was held in a private space, dubbed the Sky Room, on the Maritime Parc’s second floor. The room fits up to 500 seated guests, with a view of lower Manhattan and a 270-degree wraparound outdoor terrace. According to the 26-year-old president of the group, Gavin Wax, the event only had “about 150 people” show up to hear Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump loyalist who infamously wore a gas mask on the floor of Congress ahead of voting on COVID-19 relief legislation.
One guest, Joel Fischer, posed for a selfie with the Florida lawmaker that showed tables of maskless guests behind the pair. “Hey @NYGovCuomo. Come and get me,” Fischer wrote, seemingly taunting Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his state’s strict COVID-19 guidelines.
Another series of photos posted by Wax showed guests tightly huddled together smiling, without any protective gear. “Eat shit Antifa. God bless America,” the 26-year-old wrote.
One video posted by lawyer Ron Coleman with the caption, “Uh oh. The Rona got loose,” shows dozens of guests hovering around Gaetz after taking a photo. The Maritime Parc did not respond to The Daily Beast’s multiple requests for comment.
New Jersey limits indoor gatherings to 10 people, with an exception for “religious and political activities protected under the First Amendment.” The exempted gatherings can involve up to 150 people in an indoor space, but social distancing and mask wearing is mandated. In New York, where the Young Republican Club’s event is usually held, there is a 50-person limit on indoor gatherings.
The strict guidelines prompted Wax to keep the details of the event’s location under wraps, even implying to The Daily Beast earlier this week that the event was still to be held in New York City.
The original venue for the party, The Caldwell Factory, has a capacity of 500 people, but it appeared the plan to hold it there was scrapped as outrage grew. The venue’s name was suddenly removed from the gala’s Eventbrite page Tuesday, which later said the location is “to be announced.”
When questioned on the location change on Friday, Wax insisted the gala was always supposed to be held at the Jersey City event space and that the venue was finalized at least two months ago. Wax also confirmed the attendance was around 150 guests and did not mention any COVID-19 restrictions put in place to mitigate potential spread of the virus.
“New Jersey has way more lax rules,” Wax said. “It’s been in New Jersey for awhile. We never ‘ran there’ we saw we can do 150 people in New Jersey vs 50 people in New York and it made more sense.”
The club has a history that can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century but, as The Daily Beast has reported, they’ve taken a sharp right turn during the Trump presidency, inviting anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, conspiracy theory Jack Posobiec, and Pizzagate enthusiast Mike Cernovich to speak.
Earlier this week, Wax said in a statement that “our club has held its annual gala without interruptions for the past 107 years, through two world wars and the Spanish Flu.”
“We felt it was important as an institution to continue that great legacy and tradition,” he continued. “In doing so, we will comply with all state-mandated capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Masks will be required when attendees are not seated, and temperatures will be taken at [the] door.”
On Friday, Wax doubled down, insisting the gala was “in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” and stating that any suggestion “to the contrary and any legal threats are made in bad faith and politically motivated.”
“As far as we are aware, the First Amendment has not been repealed,” he tweeted, before adding in a follow up post: “The nihilist left is self projecting when they call the NYYRC a ‘death cult.’ We are the exact opposite. We embrace life and living while you all cower in your pods worried about a disease with a 99 percent + survivability rate.”
Once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, New York and its neighbor states put strict guidelines in place to curtail its spread. But New York City’s current positivity rate, 5 percent, is now at its highest since April. Across the river, New Jersey is also experiencing a surge in cases. The New Jersey Health Department on Friday reported 15,373 residents have died and 350,999 more have been infected.
Gaetz’s in-person appearance also defies New York and New Jersey guidelines as both states have established quarantine guidelines for those who travel from hot-spot states. If the Florida lawmaker traveled to New Jersey from the Sunshine State, he would have had to quarantine for at least three days before getting tested to adhere to New York state rules, and as many as 14 days to comply with New Jersey’s guidelines.
“I feel bad for the people that ‘had’ to work and can’t believe that management would put them in that position.”
Varick Boyd, who worked at Maritime Parc several years ago, told The Daily Beast he first learned about the event from one of Coleman’s tweets and “immediately recognized the views.”
He said he felt bad for his former colleagues who were forced to work and “that management would put them in that position.”
He said he was “not surprised by people’s behavior anymore” but sad that workers were being forced to risk their lives and the health of family members during the holiday season to keep their jobs.
“In general I feel bad for the people that ‘had’ to work and can’t believe that management would put them in that position. The attendees can do whatever they want but it is selfish to force others to serve you so you can have a secret party to own the libs. Their words not mine,” Boyd, 51, said, adding that Coleman has since blocked him on social media.
“I find it odd that the NY Young Republicans would have an event in NJ. I also find it odd that they were able to break any and all NJ restrictions for the state.”