Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse is defending his family’s membership in a 124-year-old private beach club that is said to be all-White. Whitehouse, a “progressive” Democratic senator, has on a number of occasions condemned systemic racism in the United States.
The topic of Whitehouse and his family’s decades-long membership in the Newport-based Bailey’s Beach Club was brought up again by GoLocal during an interview with the senator on Friday. Whitehouse had initially spoken about his membership in the private beach club in an interview with the news outlet in 2017.
Asked if the affluent club had taken in any minority members after the initial report, Whitehouse replied, “I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”
Previously known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, some of the members of the private beach club are reportedly from America’s “ruling class,” per The Washington Post. “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and I think we just need to work our way through the issues, thank you,” Whitehouse told GoLocal about the private beach club.
But during the 2017 interview about the club’s membership, Whitehouse had said he thought “it would be nice” if Bailey’s Beach Club “changed a little bit” though he added it’s not his “position.” And when he was asked if he would advocate for the private beach club to become more inclusive, Whitehouse said he “will take that up privately.”
The controversy over Whitehouse and his family’s membership in the Bailey’s Beach Club dates back to 2006 when he was running for senator. During his campaign, Whitehouse reportedly pledged to part ways with the private beach club, GoLocal reported. Instead, Whitehouse is said to have transferred the shares he owned in the club to his wife Sandra. She is currently one of the largest shareholders in the club.
But in a statement on Monday, a spokesperson for Whitehouse, Richard Davidson, denied the Senator had promised to quit his membership in 2006, The Washington Post reported. “The Senator did not say that,” Davidson said. “The Senator recalls transferring his shares to accommodate a club policy of spouses not both being members.”
Davidson also claimed “the club has had and has members of color” and has “no such restrictive policy” with regards to membership, adding that Whitehouse has parted ways with the club although his wife remains a member.