NEWPORT, R.I. — Critics of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse are claiming he belongs to a private beach club that does not allow people of color to hold a membership. But according to the Democratic senator, these claims are false.
Kate Nagle, who is listed as blog GoLocal Providence’s news editor, posted a 53-second clip of her questioning the Democratic Senator on Friday regarding his membership to “Bailey’s Beach Club,” which is formally known as Spouting Rock Beach Association. The YouTube video, which has garnered more than 23,000 views as of Monday night and was featured in national headlines, showed Nagle calling club “all-white.”
“The club has no such restrictive policy,” Whitehouse spokeswoman Meaghan McCabe said in a statement on Monday. “The club has had and has members of color. The Senator has dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights, as his record shows.”
When asked by Nagle if clubs like Bailey’s should “continue to exist,” Whitehouse told the blogger “it’s a long tradition in Rhode Island, and there are many of them. We just need to work our way through the issues.”
The club has “a long tradition of being a family club, and they’re working on improving diversity,” the Senator later clarified. “I think that’s pretty fair.”
“There is no discriminatory policy,” Whitehouse told an NBC-10 reporter Monday.
In 2003, Guy Trebay of The New York Times wrote: “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.” In the article, lifelong member Audrey Oswald said that while there were Jewish families were among the members, “Blacks, not really,” though one member’s biracial, adult grandchildren would occasionally visit.
The club, located on Ocean Avenue and close to the mansions that line Bellevue Avenue, was founded in the 1890s. It’s membership includes the Vanderbilt family, and it reportedly brings in an annual revenue of $2.6 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet.
Whitehouse’s membership at the club has been a talking point for years. During a 2018 debate on NBC 10, his Republican opponent, former judge Robert Flanders, criticized him for belonging to the Association. At the time, Whitehouse responded: “It’s an exclusive club. I don’t think my Republican opponent has characterized it at all fairly.”
Whitehouse and his wife have been members of the Association for decades. The Senator transferred his shares in the club to his wife years ago, making her one of the largest shareholders in the club.
On Monday, Black Lives Matter PAC also took the Senator to task for belonging to the club, though activist blogger Quahog United, which “supports the social Left,” noted that while the club is not “all-white,” it, and others like it, “needs to do a lot better.”
It's not only him.— QuahogsUnited (@QuahogsUnited) June 21, 2021
There's a lot of us who let this go for a long time.
Just like our Italians friends need to transition on Columbus, a bunch of us with Newport/tourism connections need to transition on this.
(Technically it's not all-white but needs to do a lot better)
A spokesperson for the club and the club’s staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.