Whitehouse says family won't resign from beach club
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Wednesday said he will not resign nor ask his family members to resign from an exclusive Newport beach club and said a reporter who asked him about his membership recently caught him “off guard.”
The senator, however, acknowledged that the media furor over his beach club membership has caused him to “assess all my affiliations and to consider whether any involve inequitable or exclusionary policies.”
He said he is a member of a sailing club that lacks diversity.
“I do own a boat and belong to a sailing club in Newport. While this club does not have exclusionary rules for membership, it does lack diversity,” he acknowledged. “Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry."
“I commit to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community,” he added.
The acknowledgement comes in the midst of a multiday media firestorm over Whitehouse’s membership in the prestigious Bailey’s Beach Club, which was described as an exclusive mostly white club in a 2003 New York Times profile.
Whitehouse, when caught on camera by GoLocalProv News on Friday morning, seemed apologetic when a reporter erroneously told him that the club, to which his family belongs, is an all-white establishment.
“I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet,” he responded.
But the club, which is also known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, released a statement denying claims that it’s all-white or has discriminatory membership policies as “inaccurate and false.”
Whitehouse said he “made the mistake” of accepting the reporter’s premise that the club was “all-white” because he “wasn’t prepared for the question.”
“I then checked the assertion and was assured that, first, the assertion was wrong, there is diversity in the 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,” he said.
Whitehouse also rejected calls that he and his family resign from the club, where his wife is one of the top shareholders.
“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,” he said.
When asked Friday whether clubs — again described by the reporter as all-white — such as Bailey’s should “continue to exist,” Whitehouse said: “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them. We just need to work our way through the issues.”
The beach club sought to tamp down the controversy on Wednesday by releasing a statement to The Providence Journal denying claims that it was all-white or had discriminatory policies.
“Recent characterizations in the press and in other commentary about Baileys Beach club are inaccurate and false,” the club said. “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."
“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 statement added.