Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse apologized Wednesday for “failing to address” the lack of diversity in a sailing club to which he belongs after he came under fire earlier this week for his family’s membership in another exclusive beach club.
Mr. Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, sparked an uproar Monday after he was asked by a GoLocalProv reporter whether Bailey’s Beach Club in Newport included “any minority members,” to which the senator responded, “I think the people who are running the place are still working on that, and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”
Asked whether an “elite, all-White wealthy club” should “continue to exist,” Mr. Whitehouse replied, “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island, and there are many of them.”
Bailey’s Beach has since fought back against the claim that it excludes minorities, stating Wednesday that its members include “people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.”
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Whitehouse said he was caught off guard by the reporter’s question, and that his wife and other family members are members of the club, not himself. He said, however, that he does belong to a sailing club that has a “lack of diversity” he hoped to now address.
“A representative of a local website recently caught me off guard by asking me about diversity at a beach club to which family members of mine belong. I was attending an unrelated event and wasn’t prepared for the question. At the time, I made the mistake of accepting her premise,” Mr. Whitehouse said, CNN reported. “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.
“There have been calls for me to resign from the club, which I understand,” he continued. “However, I have no membership to resign, nor will I ask my wife or any other family members to do so. First, they are on the right side of pushing for improvements. Second, and more importantly, my relationship with my family is not one in which I tell them what to do.”
Mr. Whitehouse went on to apologize for his inaction in trying to diversify a predominantly White sailing club to which he belongs.
“The recent attention to this issue has prompted me to assess all my affiliations and to consider whether any involve inequitable or exclusionary policies. While I am not a member of the beach club, I do own a boat and belong to a sailing club in Newport,” he said. “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 added.