Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) denied Wednesday that he is a member of an exclusive Newport beach club accused of only admitting white people and insisted that the organization does have “non-white members.”
In a lengthy statement, Whitehouse said he would not ask his wife or any of his other relatives who hold membership at the Bailey’s Beach Club to resign for two reasons: “First, they are on the right side of pushing for improvements. Second, and more importantly, my relationship with my family is not one in which I tell them what to do.”
While Whitehouse said that he has “no membership to resign” when it came to Bailey’s Beach Club, he did note that he belongs to a local sailing club that “does lack diversity.”
“Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry,” the senator said. “I commit to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community.”
Whitehouse launched a firestorm last week when he was approached by a GoLocal Providence reporter who asked him: “Are there any minority members of the club now?”
“I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet,” Whitehouse said.
The reporter then characterized the club as “all-white” before asking Whitehouse: “Should these clubs continue to exist?”
“It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them,” Whitehouse answered without challenging the reporter’s description. “We just need to work our way through the issues.”
In his Wednesday statement, Whitehouse said the reporter “caught me off guard” and he “wasn’t prepared for the question.”
“At the time, I made the mistake of accepting her premise,” he said. “I then checked the assertion and was assured that, first, the assertion was wrong, there is diversity in the club membership and there are non-white club members; and second, that improving diversity remains a priority and an active task for the club’s new board.”
In a separate statement to The Providence Journal, Bailey’s Beach Club described the “all-white” characterization as “inaccurate and false.”
“Over many years, Club members and their families have included people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds from around the world who come to Newport every summer,” the statement read. “Our membership comes from all over the globe to our small club and we welcome the diversity of view and background they bring to our community.”
The club’s general manager declined to disclose details about the membership to the paper, calling it private.
Bailey’s Beach club, officially known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, dates back to the 1890s and past membership has included members of the Vanderbilt and Astor families.