A guest began showing symptoms of Covid-19 two days after attending the Whitestone Republican Club’s holiday party, which featured few masks and lots of touching. He was hospitalized not long after.
“It was a wonderful time and a great party, but I’m not happy I got sick,” James Trent told the Queens Eagle Dec. 30 from his North Shore University Hospital room. The Whitestone Republican Club confirmed the infection the next day via Facebook, but added that his hospitalization was “purely precautionary.”
The Republican club fell under heavy fire after a video depicting its guests dancing without personal protective gear was circulated nationally — former Assembly District 26 candidate James Martinosky can be seen wielding a hefty Trump flag and leading a conga line before City Council District 19 candidate Vickie Paladino jumps ahead. Only one person in the background of the video can be seen wearing a mask.
Trent, the chairman of the neighboring Queens Village Republican Club, said he hadn’t participated in the dancing and largely kept to himself at the Dec. 9 party. A spokesperson from the Whitestone club said Trent was the only attendee to test positive for the virus. Another couple was rumored to be infected, but have since tested negative.
Trent’s GOP chapter had celebrated its own holiday party at a Floral Park restaurant just one week earlier. It’s not clear if he contracted the virus at the gala or if any other attendees had tested positive. The Queens Village club could not be reached for further details.
“After everything that we have learned about this virus, and how it does not spread significantly from asymptomatic carriers, the frenzy over this one event is mind-boggling. Especially when many other political clubs and organizations have held similar gatherings in NYC and across the country,” the Whitestone Republican Club spokesperson told the Chronicle in an email, adding that the focus should be on crime, violence, homelessness, economic shortfalls and other afflictions rather than their holiday party. In the days following the release of the video, the club, via Facebook, encouraged people to make their own decisions regarding precautionary measures and to not blindly follow directions by politicians.
The widespread and mostly negative interest sparked by the video prompted a Dec. 23 investigation by the State Liquor Authority into Il Bacco, the Little Neck restaurant that hosted the party. The eatery was shut down and had its license suspended the next day.
“During a follow-up inspection, investigators found flagrant violations of indoor dining regulations and existing health safety and Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, while verifying the maskless party depicted in the video did in fact occur,” spokesperson William Crowley said in a statement. “This summary suspension should send a strong message that we have zero tolerance for establishments that put New Yorkers’ health at risk.”
The SLA said it found four violations: patrons dining in a fully enclosed rooftop structure; staff not wearing masks properly; multiple safety violations, such as nonworking emergency exit lights, improperly stored propane tanks, noninspected fire extinguishers and more; and that the owner’s son confirmed that he was present at the party and the video was accurate.
The SLA-imposed Emergency Summary Suspension will remain in place indefinitely. Il Bacco can face a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 per violation and/or permanent revocation of its liquor license.
The Whitestone Republican Club spokesperson could not reveal if any fines had been issued to the party-goers. In another Facebook post, the club said the regulations were attempts to stifle the people’s freedoms.
“There are clearly two camps people have broken into during this challenging time. One that believes that people should be forced into compliance with recommended guidelines under threat of force by official penalty and retaliation. The second believes that people should be responsible to decide for themselves how to protect their health and how much risk they are willing to assume, just as we do with most other personal risk decisions in our society,” the Dec. 31 post said.
“We clearly fall into the second camp. Defending our personal liberties is paramount in a free society, and no one should be penalized, shamed, or ostracized for how they choose to live their life.”