The New York Young Republican Club hosted a large indoor gala with little-to-no mask-wearing or social distancing in Jersey City Thursday night, drawing fierce criticism from New Jersey's governor Friday.
"Last night, the @NYYRC allegedly snuck into Jersey City to hold a "gala fundraiser" – ignoring our social distancing and mask rules," New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said on Twitter. "It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state."
The controversial event took place as the U.S. reported a record number of daily new Covid-19 cases, current hospitalizations and single-day deaths on Thursday, indicating that the national virus crisis is only accelerating.
Gov. Murphy said, "Jersey City law enforcement is investigating this matter."
"The Gala was held in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, including capacity restrictions," NYYRC president Gavin Wax said in an email. "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 As far as we are aware, the First Amendment has not been repealed."
The NYYRC originally said the annual gala would be held at the Caldwell Factory in Manhattan. The planned event drew criticism from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City councilmembers. The NYYRC then scrapped the event location and refused to disclose where the gala would take place.
Later, pictures and videos posted on social media revealed the event was held at Maritime Parc in Jersey City. New Jersey allows indoor gatherings of up to 150 people for religious and political activities protected by the First Amendment, but requires attendees at indoor events to wear face coverings and stay six feet part, which did not occur at the gala.
Wax told Gothamist that the gala "had exactly 150 guests," but when asked by CNBC to confirm the number, he said in an email, "That's the legal limit. We had under that. Not sure the final number that actually attended since we had some no shows."
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop issued an administrative order Friday closing Maritime Parc "until such time as the operators prepare and submit a written operational plan...describing how they intend to comply with Governor Phil Murphy's Executive orders...regarding capacity mandates and mask wearing."
A spokesperson for Maritime Parc confirmed that the event's headcount was within the allotted capacity under current state restrictions. "All guests were required to wear masks upon entering and exiting the event space. While we cannot force compliance with the suggested social distancing guidelines at larger gatherings, all guests were informed upon entering the event," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"The New Jersey State Police had visited prior to the event to ensure compliance and go over rules/regulations," the statement said. "Maritime Parc will assist the investigation in whatever ways necessary and is eager to help."
Featured attendees at the gala included keynote speaker James O'Keefe, founder of far-right group Project Veritas, and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who wore a gas mask on the House floor in March while voting on Covid relief legislation.
The office of Rep. Gaetz did not respond when asked whether the congressman self-quarantined per New Jersey guidelines before appearing at the event. New Jersey requires that travelers from outside of the immediate region self-isolate for at least 14 days. Gaetz spoke on the House floor on Friday without wearing a mask.
"Matt – You are not welcome in New Jersey, and frankly I don't ever want you back in this state," Gov. Murphy said on Twitter.
Gaetz took the place of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was originally slated as a featured attendee but pulled out of the event.
Mayor Fulop said on Twitter that "JC law enforcement will be visiting the Maritime Parc this AM + will follow appropriate steps within laws of NJ."
The Jersey City Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.