Whitehouse said he is not personally a member of the club and wouldn’t urge his family members to leave it, because those are their decisions. He also addressed a sailing club which he belongs to which he said “does lack diversity." “Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry," he said.
The beach club also broke its silence Wednesday, issuing a statement saying, “Recent characterizations in the press and in other commentary about Bailey’s Beach Club are 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 below post is from Tuesday.
It’s not entirely clear whether Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has indeed belonged to an all-White beach club. What is clear is that he has handled questions about it poorly and that it remains inexplicable that we don’t know more by now.
Whitehouse and his office have offered shifting explanations since a local reporter asked him Friday about his membership in Bailey’s Beach Club, an exclusive club in Newport, R.I., formally known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association.
Whitehouse was asked by the reporter for GoLocalProv.com about what she characterized as the “all-White” beach club. She asked whether the club had admitted any minority members in recent years.
Whitehouse seemed to grant the premise of the question while suggesting that the club had indeed been derelict on diversifying its membership.
“I think the people who are running the place are still working on that,” he said, “and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”
Except Whitehouse and his office later claimed that it indeed had happened — at least to some extent. A spokesman for the senator told The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez that the club had “no such restrictive policy” regarding the race or ethnicity of its members. The spokesman also said that “the club has had and has members of color.”
Whitehouse also made the clarification himself, telling NBC-10, “There is no discriminatory policy, and the club has had and does have, a membership of color.” He said there was “never” such a policy. Whitehouse also said the club has “a long tradition of being a family club, and they’re working on improving diversity. I think that’s pretty fair.”
What’s especially confusing about the initial response and later clarifications is that Whitehouse should probably have been ready for such questions.
This isn’t the first time his affiliation with the club has been an issue, after all. The same local website pressed him on it in 2017, when it reported that he had transferred his shares to his wife. It said it tracked him down “after weeks of [Whitehouse] refusing to answer GoLocal’s questions about his membership in Bailey’s.” The senator said at the time that he would privately take up the diversity issue with the club and that “it would be nice if they changed a little bit, but it’s not my position.”
It was also brought up at a 2018 debate, when his long-shot Republican opponent said Bailey’s was “not only exclusive but doesn’t admit Blacks or Jews.” Whitehouse responded, “I don’t think my Republican opponent has characterized it at all fairly.”
GoLocal also said in its 2017 story that the issue was raised during Whitehouse’s first Senate campaign, in 2006, at which point he “reportedly promised to quit his memberships in Bailey’s.” But Whitehouse’s office denies that he made such a promise and says he recalls that he transferred his shares to his wife “to accommodate a club policy of spouses not both being members.”
(The Post has been unable to locate a contemporaneous report indicating such a promise by Whitehouse in 2006. GoLocal stands by its reporting, with chief executive and co-founder Josh Fenton saying, “The senator promised a number of times that he would quit. This was well-stated and predates the launch of GoLocal in 2010.”)
Given all of that — including especially Whitehouse saying in 2017 that he intended to take up the diversity issue with the club — one would think he would have more of a handle on where the club stands on the matter. If you were asked about being a member of an “all-White club” and it wasn’t true, wouldn’t your first impulse be to dispute that?
The lack of diversity at the beach club was also noted in a New York Times profile of it in 2003, which qualified that the biracial grandchildren of a member were allowed in:
Diversity, of course, has made scant inroads on the Newport of Bailey’s Beach, whose membership profile might be defined less by who people are than what they are not. ''Jewish, yes,'' Audrey Oswald, a lifelong member, replied when asked about the club’s demographic composition. ''Blacks, not really,'' Ms. Oswald added, although that is not altogether the case. Mrs. [Eileen] Slocum, by all accounts the reigning dowager of the resort, has grown grandchildren who sometimes visit the beach and who are biracial, the offspring of her daughter Beryl’s marriage to Adam Clayton Powell III.
There is someone who could clear much of this up — or at least back up the senator’s revised assurances — of course. But Bailey’s Beach Club has repeatedly declined to speak up.
“We’re a very small private beach club. We have no comment at this time. We’re private. Our club information is private,” the club said when contacted by Vice News. The Post has reached out to Bailey’s multiple times, but the “no comment” still stands. “We have no comment at this time,” it said Tuesday. “Thank you for calling, and have a great day.”
If the answer was that the club has made strides on diversity, it would seem to be in its interest to make that known. It would also be in Whitehouse’s interest to spur such a disclosure, and he has leverage not just as a U.S. senator, but as someone whose wife became one of the club’s largest shareholders when he transferred his shares to her.
In an interview Monday with NBC-10, Whitehouse suggested that the matter was being blown out of proportion by conservative media.
“It has been turning up quite a lot in far-right media outlets — right-wing talk radio and things like that, which are not exactly known for being factually precise,” he said.
After several years of this being an issue, though, one would think we’d have some more precise facts on this from Whitehouse and the beach club — especially given the premium that Democrats like him are placing on racial diversity and equality.