One by one, 16 maskless attendees of an indoor Republican club holiday party in Queens earlier this month formed a conga line, following a Trump 2020 flag and the advice of a Bee Gees song: “You Should Be Dancing.”
Inside an Italian restaurant that sued the state of New York to restart indoor dining, Vickie Paladino, a GOP candidate for New York City Council in Queens’ District 19, was at the front of the impromptu disco conga line on Dec. 9, joining the crowd in shaking their hips like it was 1976, a video of the event posted on Twitter showed.
After a video of the event went viral on Monday, Paladino and Queens Republicans have faced criticism on social media for holding a holiday party in which almost all attendees were shown maskless and not adhering to social distancing as the borough faces a surge in coronavirus cases.
“The Whitestone Republican Club in NYC apparently held a Christmas party this year without a care in the world about covid,” wrote journalist Matt Binder, who posted a video of the event that has been viewed more than 1.8 million times as of early Tuesday.
The party occurred at a time when New York state is averaging about 10,400 positive cases per day, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker. So far, New York has had almost 860,000 positive cases and more than 36,200 deaths. Almost 111,000 cases and almost 7,500 deaths occurred in Queens County.
The Whitestone Republican Club followed the example of major party leaders, most notably the White House, which pushed forward with several holiday parties this year. At least 25 of the events are indoors despite warnings from the nation’s own public health officials. The fallout from the holiday parties has already begun, with a Georgia megachurch pastor and Trump campaign lawyer among those who tested positive after attending an event.
Republican governors in Mississippi and Florida also overlooked public health guidance. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) hosted at least three holiday parties at the governor’s mansion earlier this month, despite his executive order limiting gatherings. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hosted a holiday party for state legislators last week.
The holiday party hosted by the Queens GOP group, which had at least 50 guests, took place indoors despite statewide rules banning gatherings larger than 10 people. But it occurred before New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) banned indoor dining effective Dec. 14.
It was held at Il Bacco, a Little Neck restaurant whose owners are the lead plaintiffs in a $2 billion class-action lawsuit filed in late August against Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) for not allowing restaurants to have indoor dining.
Il Bacco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite what can be seen in the video, Robert Hornak, a spokesman for the Whitestone Republican Club, told the Queens Daily Eagle that partygoers largely followed the state’s coronavirus rules.
“We held an intimate gathering observing all the covid guidelines in place at the time,” Hornak said. “Every attendee was told to wear a mask, and everyone had one when entering, or was given one.”
It is unclear whether anyone tested positive for the coronavirus after the event.
Among the guests was Paladino, who posted a group photo from the event on her Facebook page in which no one is wearing a mask. Bursting onto the local scene in 2017 after she berated de Blasio in a confrontation that went viral, Paladino has established herself as a divisive figure in her party who has been accused of cozying up to Proud Boys and neo-Nazis and sharing controversial posts on her social media accounts.
Paladino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After a stressful election and a rough year, Hornak told the Daily Eagle that the event was meant to lift spirits and let off some steam.
“Everyone there had a great time and we were pleased that we gave people that time to be together with others of like mind and spirit as we get ready to move forward into what will hopefully be a much better 2021,” he said.