Brad Hill was already at the Kowloon restaurant in Saugus last Thursday when his former Legislative colleagues started arriving late.
In the previous two hours, House Democrats and Republicans had blamed each other harshly over the House’s new immunization policy, which requires any lawmaker or staff member who wishes to work from the Statehouse to prove that he was vaccinated against COVID-19.
Only one Republican crossed the aisle to support the policy, and opponents of the debate called each other hypocrites for taking the positions they took.
But now some of those same Democrats and Republicans who were on the other side of the vote were willing to put the emotions of the afternoon behind them to mingle and celebrate Hill. The venue they chose was the popular Chinese restaurant owned by the family of Representative Donald Wong, a Saugus Republican.
Hill, also a Republican, had just ended a 22-year career in the legislature to join the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and his farewell party drew a mix of more than two dozen current lawmakers and elders who served with him, according to photos and first-hand accounts.
“We had a great time,” said Rep. Paul Donato, Democrat of Medford and deputy deputy chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who insisted masks were worn except when people were eating and for take a group photo.
But when these photos started surfacing on social media, some began to question the optics, if not public health, of attending a mid-sized gathering inside a restaurant after going. to the mat for a policy that would require proof of vaccination and universal masking just to enter the home side of State House.
In addition to the group photo, some images showed participants chatting casually, not seated, without masks. Saugus does not require masks in indoor public spaces like some other cities, including Boston, have done in response to the rise of the Delta variant.
Representative Peter Durant, one of the most vocal critics of the vaccines mandate, had suggested during the debate that one only has to look at the Facebook pages of some lawmakers advocating the Statehouse policy to find examples of it in large crowds. without mask. .
The presence of Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante in Kowloon particularly piqued Representative Shawn Dooley.
“Let her go to the party of one of the people she accused of not caring about the deaths of people, in a huge restaurant, with a crowded crowd, without a mask – shows the hypocrisy of it all” said Dooley, who was not at the party but had seen the photos.
Dooley had listened to Ferrante tell the House that it could be a matter of life and death for her to know that the people she works with are vaccinated and will wear masks. Ferrante is currently undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“Yes, you might not have trouble with COVID, but if I catch COVID it might be a lot worse,” she said during the debate.
Ferrante did not return multiple emails this week seeking to discuss his decision to attend the Kowloon event, but several people who were there said the Gloucester Democrat had largely sat away from the rest of the group and wore a mask.
One of those attendees was Representative Jim O’Day of West Boylston. O’Day said he was not sure about everyone’s immunization status at the party, but said he was vaccinated and that many people, including Ferrante, wore masks when not eating .
“Maybe it was a little silly of us to take our masks off for this photo, but I can tell you that in general most people were quite anxious about wearing their masks,” O’Day said. .
When Wong arrived at his family’s restaurant, he said people were already eating, so they weren’t wearing masks. He said the event took place in a room separate from the rest of the restaurant and the tables were set up to accommodate groups of four or six with plastic partitions separating the tables.
“Everyone loved Brad Hill and I think a lot of people were there just for him,” Wong said of leaving the Debate Emotions on Beacon Hill.
Wong said he could not recall anyone bringing up the heated words exchanged hours earlier, or questioning anyone’s use of masks or immunization status.
“I was so involved in the Brad Hill celebration, it was one of the furthest things on my mind,” said Wong, who recalled sitting at Ferrante’s table at one point. given to speak with the Democrat. “No one ever came up to me or anyone else and asked if we should have a mask. No one mentioned it.”
Donato said he felt everyone present was vaccinated, although several other guests said they couldn’t be entirely sure.
Donato said the event was no different than the Nepal ambassador’s visit to the Statehouse on Monday and that those who met him wore masks, except when briefly posing for a photo. He said people were making sure Ferrante was comfortable with the situation.
“Everyone wore a mask until we took the picture,” Donato said.
A handful of other attendees identified through photos from the event did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Other guests included Democratic Reps Patricia Haddad and Sean Garballey and Republican Reps Kim Ferguson, Hannah Kane and Lenny Mirra. Senatorial Minority Leader Bruce Tarr was in attendance, as were Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur, former Senator Viriato deMacedo, Salem State University President John Keenan and former Rep. Kathi Anne Reinstein, who now runs affairs. exterior of Roca in Chelsea.
The Statehouse remains closed to the public, although the vaccination mandate has been presented by House leaders as the first in a series of steps towards reopening the building to the public. Even before the new vaccine policy was passed in the House, masks were required of lawmakers when entering the House chamber, and mandate supporters have said the closeness to the chamber and the proximity to the chamber. their offices relative to each other made it imperative to know if other lawmakers were vaccinated.
During the debate, Ferrante said that anyone who voted against the vaccine mandate could no longer say without being hypocritical that he entered the civil service to “serve the least of us”.
“I understand the reality that everyone has political headaches when something comes to the ground, but please, please, please my colleague, I’m not even asking you , I beg you, don’t let your political blockages, your political challenges and your political showmanship become my medical problems, ”Ferrante said.
Despite being treated for cancer in Boston, Ferrante continued to work and in recent weeks has presided over hearings virtually and attended in-person events in his district with Gov. Charlie Baker and others where speakers have focused masks, except when speaking into the microphone.
Ferrante did not attend last Thursday’s vaccine debate in person at the Statehouse, choosing instead to speak remotely to his colleagues.