“While this club does not have exclusionary rules for membership, it 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 in a statement. “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’s family has long belonged to Bailey’s Beach Club, which is formally known as the Spouting Rock Beach Association. The private club is located on Ocean Avenue in Newport.
Whitehouse defended the club in his statement, saying that “improving diversity remains a priority.” He said he would not ask his wife or any other family member to resign from the club, as they are “on the right side of pushing for improvements” and he does not tell them what to do.
Whitehouse was asked at an event on Friday whether the club has any non-White members. He told the news outlet GoLocal Prov, “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 in his statement that the reporter’s question caught him off guard and he “made the mistake of accepting her premise.”
A woman who answered the phone at Spouting Rock Beach Association on Monday afternoon declined to answer questions about its membership, saying only that the club is “a very small beach club” and has “no comment at this time.”
But the club released a statement on Wednesday to WPRI 12 News, saying that the allegations against it were “inaccurate and false” and that its members and their families “have included people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.”
The news outlet also obtained a longer note that the president of Bailey’s Beach Club, Alexander Auersperg, sent to all members.
“Let me be very clear, as president of this club and on behalf of my fellow governors and management, we do not discriminate against any race, religion, or ethnic background when it comes to our membership process or to the hiring of our staff — I can assure you that there is no one on our Board of Governors who would ever tolerate such an offensive practice,” he said.
Auersperg is an Austrian prince and son of the late Martha “Sunny” von Bulow. In sensational trials in the 1980s, socialite Claus von Bulow was tried twice on charges of attempting to kill his heiress wife by injecting her with insulin at their mansion in Newport. She was in a coma for more than 27 years and died in 2008.
Claus von Bulow was convicted and later acquitted of twice trying to kill her. He died in 2019.
Republicans and some Black leaders accused Whitehouse, who has been in the Senate for 14 years, of hypocrisy for advocating for issues of racial equity while belonging to such an exclusive private club.
Whitehouse’s Democratic colleagues from Rhode Island defended him against those attacks on Tuesday, saying he is a true advocate for those issues.
“I know @SenWhitehouse’s heart, and I’ve seen his relentless work fighting for equity for all Rhode Islanders firsthand,” tweeted Rep. Jim Langevin. “Anyone suggesting otherwise is dead wrong.”
And Rep. David N. Cicilline wrote: “Sheldon Whitehouse has been a fighter for racial and economic justice his whole life. Full stop.”
Eugene Scott and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.