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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defends membership in SECOND club that ‘lacks diversity’

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Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defended membership in second club that ‘lacks diversity’ and says he won’t resign – but vows to ‘build a more inclusive membership’ on Wednesday.

Whitehouse. 65, belongs to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport – which he did not identify but was confirmed by the club to Fox News.

The news comes after he had been linked to the Bailey’s Beach Club, another entity that has faced criticism for seemingly having no black members, sparking criticism of the progressive politician from constituents in Rhode Island.

He told the outlet that he is not a member of the beach club but his family is and will remain members despite calls for him to resign.

Whitehouse. 65, belongs to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport - which he did not identify but was confirmed by the club

Whitehouse. 65, belongs to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport – which he did not identify but was confirmed by the club

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Pictured: The Ida Lewis Yacht Club of Newport Rhode Island

Bailey's Beach Club is seen from Newport Cliff Walk

Bailey’s Beach Club is seen from Newport Cliff Walk

Spouting Rock Beach Association, also known as Bailey's Beach is an elite private beach and club

Spouting Rock Beach Association, also known as Bailey’s Beach is an elite private beach and club

Spouting Rock Beach Association, also known as Bailey's Beach Club, is an elite private beach and club

Spouting Rock Beach Association, also known as Bailey’s Beach Club, is an elite private beach and club

‘While I am not a member of the beach club, I do own a boat and belong to a sailing club in Newport. While this club does not have exclusionary rules for membership, it does lack diversity,’ Whitehouse said in a statement to Fox News.

‘Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry. I commit to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community.’

He added: ‘There have been calls for me to resign from the club, which I understand. However, I have no membership to resign, nor will I ask my wife or any other family members to do so.’ 

Fox News noted that his family appears to have been invested in the yacht club for decades. A ‘Sheldon Whitehouse’ who is presumably his grandfather Edwin Sheldon Whitehouse is listed as ‘commodore’ of the club from 1937 to 1940.

The Bailey’s Beach Club, officially known as Spouting Rock Beach Association, is located on Ocean Avenue in Newport. 

In a video posted by GoLocalProv on Tuesday, Whitehouse was asked about his family’s membership in the beach club.

In the video, the interviewer asked Whitehouse about comments he had made in 2017 in which he said he hoped the club would start to accept minority members.

Whitehouse had told the outlet at the time that ‘it would be nice if the membership changed a little but it’s not my position.’ 

‘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 on Tuesday.

Whitehouse was then asked if exclusive clubs with all white members should ‘continue to exist.’

‘It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and we just need to work our way through the issues,’ Whitehouse said.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse answers questions regarding his family's membership to Bailey's Beach Club, also known by its legal name Spouting Rock Beach Association

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse answers questions regarding his family’s membership to Bailey’s Beach Club, also known by its legal name Spouting Rock Beach Association

The club said in a statement to WPRI that it is ‘inaccurate and false’ to say the club does not have any non-white members. 

‘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 club said in the statement. 

The outlet noted that the club did not provide any statistics or other data showing the number of non-white members who belong to the club.  

In his statement to Fox News, Whitehouse said the GoLocalProv reporter’s question had caught him ‘off guard.’

‘I was attending an unrelated event and wasn’t prepared for the question. At the time, I made the mistake of accepting her premise,’ Whitehouse told Fox News.

‘I then checked the assertion and was assured that, first, the assertion was wrong, there is diversity in the membership and there are non-white club members; and second, that improving diversity remains a priority and an active task for the club’s new board.’

Gary Dantzler, founder and executive director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, called Whitehouse’s membership in the club an insult to black people in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday. 

‘The senator says he’s about systemic change in America. But the problem that I have … is that it’s almost a contradiction,’ Dantzler told the outlet.

‘Someone with that power that we elected to be our senator, our watchdog, he’s not fulfilling the part of being transparent to African Americans, so I have a huge problem with that.’

He added: ‘It’s not just him. It’s a huge cesspool of politicians that are failing our communities. And you had this opportunity months ago to rally and adapt to what’s going on, when you said you’re for George Floyd and the mission while we screamed for African American liberation. But we didn’t get none of that.’

Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP in Providence, dismissed the controversy over Whitehouse’s club memberships in a statement to the Washington Post.

Vincent described Whitehouse as ‘a champion of civil rights’ and noted that the NAACP has given him an ‘A’ rating on his last legislative report card.

‘I understand that there’s been no written policy that excludes Blacks or other people of color from being members in that club,’ Vincent told the outlet.

‘And I understand that there are members of color in that club. And there’s not a written covenant saying ‘No Blacks need apply’.’

He added: ‘Given the fact that the senator said it’s not accurate, all those things taken together, I’m satisfied.’



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