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Queens Republicans Under Fire for Maskless ‘Covid Conga Line’ Party

More than a dozen people shimmied through a glitzy banquet room in Queens earlier this month, forming a conga line during a holiday party thrown by a local Republican club. Coronavirus cases were spiking around the country, and it was days before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo closed indoor dining in the city.

No one in the conga line wore a mask.

The dance was captured in a video that circulated on social media this week, leading to an outcry that culminated with criticism from the governor and led to an investigation by the State Liquor Authority.

“Covid conga lines are not smart, that’s my official position,” Mr. Cuomo said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “Why you would do an unmasked conga line in the middle of a Covid pandemic, whatever your political persuasion, defies a logical explanation.”

The Whitestone Republican Club held the party on Dec. 9 at Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Little Neck, Queens.

“In early December we held a small gathering observing all the Covid guidelines in place at the time,” said a statement on the club’s Facebook page on Tuesday. “Every attendee was told to wear a mask and everyone either had one when entering or was given one.”

Officials at City Hall felt differently.

“There will be significant fines for this incident, and we’re looking at both the group that held the event and the establishment that hosted it,” said Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for the mayor. “There will continue to be consequences for putting New Yorkers at risk.”

Video of the conga line was shared on Twitter on Monday by Matt Binder, a journalist who said the footage was initially posted on a private local Facebook group. The conga line snaked past a D.J. booth with a spinning disco ball as the Bee Gees blasted in the background, the video showed. A man hoisting a Trump 2020 campaign flag led the dance before Vickie Paladino, a staunch conservative who is the club’s president and a City Council candidate, took over.

Thomas Paladino, Ms. Paladino’s son and her campaign strategy director, said that the restaurant and the club took precautions, like providing hand sanitizer and taking temperatures at the door.

“We’re not the mask police,” Mr. Paladino said on Tuesday. “We’re all grown adults, and if somebody chooses to put a mask on, they can put a mask on.”

The party, which took place days before Mr. Cuomo again closed indoor dining in the city to slow the spread of the virus, was just the latest in-person gathering to draw opprobrium as coronavirus cases increase around the country.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the region have hosted risky get-togethers. Criticism abounded after Democratic leaders in Brooklyn held a birthday party in late November where many participants lacked masks, and the New York Young Republican Club flouted the rules at a secret gala in New Jersey not long afterward.

Il Bacco has a dining room, banquet room and rooftop space, and Mr. Paladino said the party was spread between the roof and banquet room to allow for social distancing. He would not comment on the number of people who attended the party, but said that the club had more than 250 members.

The restaurant’s website said that the banquet room can hold up to 160 people. The video shows a smaller crowd, though it is not clear if the party met the state’s capacity limit at the time.

Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority, confirmed on Tuesday that the authority was investigating Il Bacco. Mr. Crowley said that the state has suspended 279 liquor licenses for violations of coronavirus-related regulations.

A man who answered the telephone at Il Bacco on Tuesday evening said that the restaurant followed all the coronavirus regulations, but he would not comment on the party or the investigation.

Tina Maria Oppedisano, Il Bacco’s manager, was part of a group that sued Mayor Bill de Blasio and the governor over closing indoor dining during the summer, along with her father, Joe Oppedisano, the owner of the restaurant. She has remained critical about restaurant restrictions.

“As long as we are abiding by all the laws and all the safety precautions,” Ms. Oppedisano recently told The New York Times, “I don’t understand why we can’t just conduct our business.”

Mr. Paladino described the outcry over the video as “insane,” noting that everyone at the party was aware of the risk and, as far as he knew, nobody who attended had contracted the virus.

“That we have to feel like we have something to be ashamed of because we chose to celebrate the holiday in a perfectly ordinary way is crazy,” he said.

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