In a blow to voters and political supporters in Rhode Island, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has come under fire for not only belonging to an exclusive all-white private beach club — but also for defending his membership and saying he doesn’t think it’s a problem.
According to NBC News, reporters asked Whitehouse on Friday, June 18, about his membership to Bailey’s Beach Club in Providence, Rhode Island, which has a reputation for being an “elite all-white” club for the wealthy.
Whitehouse, who claims to be a frequent opponent of “systemic racism,” told reporters that Bailey’s does have a diversity of membership and is “working on improving diversity.”
Originally known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, Bailey’s Beach Club opened 124 years ago and boasts roughly 500 members. In all that time of business, the club doesn’t appear to have ever had a non-white member. According to NBC News, “Whitehouse promised to quit his membership in the club when he was running for Senate in 2006, but [instead, he later] transferred his shares to his wife.”
As the bad press against him began to gain steam, Whitehouse said in another interview with GoLocal Providence that he supports the owners’ efforts to bolster diversity, even though it hasn’t happened in over 100 years.
“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.
When GoLocal asked Whitehouse if “elite all-white wealthy clubs” like Bailey’s should still exist, he said, “it’s a long tradition in Rhode Island, and there are many of them. I think we just need to work our way through the issues.”
He later backtracked on his statement, saying the publication “got its facts wrong”; what he meant to say was Bailey’s has “a long tradition of it being a family club.”
Richard Davidson, a representative for Whitehouse, later told NBC News that the club has no “restrictive policy.” Davidson also said Whitehouse has “dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights.”
As far back as the early 2000s, locals say Bailey’s Beach Club has had a troubling history with its membership and an overall lack of diversity. In a 2003 New York Times article, one member said the club did have Jewish members, but “not really” any Blacks, although one patron supposedly had “grown biracial grandchildren who would sometimes visit.”