NJ Gov. Phil Murphy Slams Congressman Matt Gaetz for Attending Maskless Secret Party in the State

Ashley Boucher
·5-min read

Alex Wroblewski/Getty; MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Matt Gaetz, Phil Murphy

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy slammed Matt Gaetz on Friday after the Florida congressman attended a secret party at a restaurant in Jersey City.

Gaetz was photographed inside the Maritime Parc restaurant in Jersey City's Liberty State Park in close proximity to dozens of people — with no one wearing face coverings. The group, members of New York's Young Republican Club, allegedly "snuck into" Jersey City on Thursday night to hold a fundraiser after "they couldn't find a venue in their own city due to the pandemic," Murphy said during his daily press briefing on Friday.

Sarah Palin had been scheduled to speak at the event, which reportedly kept the party's address a secret until the last minute to avoid detection, but Gaetz, 38, took her place after she backed out.

"There is no obvious attempt to enforce social distancing or face masks — even though wearing masks indoors is mandatory in New Jersey at organized gatherings when individuals are not eating or drinking," Murphy continued.

In New Jersey, indoor gatherings are capped at 10 people, and restaurants are only allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity with guests wearing masks while not seated.

Governor Phil Murphy/Twitter Matt Gaetz and other attendees at the Young Republicans event

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"It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state, never mind their own. It is also beyond the pale that a member of Congress ... would participate in this," the governor added, going on to call out Gaetz by name.

"That guy in the middle — the tall, handsome fella in the grey suit — that is Rep. Matt Putz. Sorry, Matt Gaetz," he said. "Based on his past performances, it is obvious being a knucklehead is not beyond the pale for him."

"What a fool," Murphy continued, referencing Gaetz's stunt earlier this year of wearing a gas mask on the U.S. House of Representatives floor to vote on COVID-19 relief back in March. "He and they should be ashamed of themselves. He is not welcome — I hope you're watching, Matt — you are not welcome in New Jersey, and frankly, I don't ever want you back in this state."

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Phil Murphy

Jersey City law enforcement is investigating the party, Murphy said, and the restaurant has been ordered to close.

A spokesperson for Maritime Parc told NJ.com that the restaurant had been following state capacity rules.

"It has been brought to our attention that videos and photos have emerged on social showing people in close proximity," the spokesperson said. "We surmise this was at the end of the evening as we believe the agenda called for 2 hours 45 minutes of speaking out of the entire 3.5 hour event. As we did not have any role in the event other than to serve as the venue, we cannot speak for certain on the final agenda."

The restaurant did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

The New York Young Republican Club tells PEOPLE in a statement that "the Gala was held in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, including capacity restrictions."

"Any suggestion to the contrary and any legal threats are made in bad faith and politically motivated," the statement says. "As far as we are aware, the First Amendment has not been repealed."

Both Fulop and Murphy tweeted their ire at the illegal gathering. Gaetz responded to a tweet from Murphy, telling him, "You’re gonna regret this tweet when you move to Florida like the rest of New Jersey."

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In another tweet, Gaetz added, "Thank you for calling me handsome, Governor! I’m only considered handsome in New Jersey, though. In Florida I’m barely a roundup 6."

Gaetz could not be reached for comment by PEOPLE Friday.

Jake Hudnut, Jersey City's chief prosecutor, said that the attendees' violations of COVID-19 regulations were "dangerous and unacceptable."

"Pssst...you are in #JerseyCity - not New York. Gov. Cuomo may not be able to 'come and get' you. But I can," he responded to a since-deleted tweet of a photo from the event.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also weighed in on the event, saying at his own press briefing Friday, "Why they chose to go to New Jersey to violate the rules as opposed to violating the rules in New York, I don't know," NBC New York reported.

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