Democratic Sen. Whitehouse defends membership to alleged all-white beach club

During his 2006 Senate run, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island reportedly vowed to quit Bailey's Beach Club.

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Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is defending his membership in a private beach club that has all-white membership. 

Whitehouse told reporters that Bailey’s Beach Club “has informed me that it does, in fact, have diversity of membership.” However, he didn’t say that he witnessed it for himself. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is defending his membership in Bailey’s Beach Club, a 124-year-old private club in Newport, Rhode Island that has all-white membership. (Photo by Demetrius Freeman-Pool/Getty Images)

Bailey’s Beach Club is a 124-year-old private club in Newport, Rhode Island. A spokesperson for Whitehouse claims the club has no “restrictive policy.” It is officially known as Spouting Rock Beach Association, named for a geological formation. 

During his run for the Senate in 2006, Whitehouse, a progressive Democrat, reportedly vowed to quit his membership in the exclusive club. Instead, he simply transferred his shares to his wife, Sandra Thornton Whitehouse.

According to GoLocal Providence, which confronted Whitehouse again recently, he remains a member, and his wife is now one of Bailey’s Beach Club’s biggest shareholders. She’s there most summer days, the outlet reports.

“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 response to questions about its diversity. “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,” he said, while being led away by an aide.

Bailey’s Beach Club is one of the most exclusive private clubs in the country. GoLocal described its 500-person membership as “a who’s who Newport, Palm Beach and New York wealth.”

According to a 2003 article in The New York Times, the most diverse members of the club were some Jewish families. The Summer Places profile noted that one member had biracial grandchildren, related to Adam Clayton Powell III, who would occasionally visit. 

Whitehouse has frequently spoken out against systemic racism in the U.S., particularly in 2020 after the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in Minneapolis, Brunswick and Louisville.

“We hear the voices of the peaceful protestors who have marched,” he tweeted after leading congressional Democrats in a moment of silence last June in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol. “We can and must do better to root out systemic racism in its many forms and meet America’s full promise of justice for all.”

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