Last week, one of the most influential men in the world could walk around Washington all but unrecognized. Dominique Strauss-Kahn kept such a low profile that most of his Georgetown neighbors had no idea a leading French presidential candidate was living in their midst.
Now, of course, everyone knows the IMF chief’s name — and the fact he’s accused of a sensational sex crime.
Although the International Monetary Fund is based in the nation’s capital, few in D.C. have met him, fewer still socialized with Strauss-Kahn or his American-born wife, Anne Sinclair.
“They were very selective,” said a member of the international financial community who dined occasionally with the couple. Their tight circle of friends included people in the business, economic, and financial worlds... and that was about it. “Not even political types in Washington.”
Which explodes several myths about D.C.: Not every bigwig shows up at the White House or fancy parties or in gossip columns. Not everyone knows everyone, and some prefer to stay way under the radar.
Traditionally, executives from the IMF and World Bank have operated in largely separate social worlds from the rest of D.C.. The meetings and dinners held far from the public eye, the guest lists private and exclusive. “The IMF is an important international organization — that happens to be headquartered in Washington,” said former banker and philanthropist Adrienne Arsht. Most folks around here only know it for “its annual meeting that causes horrific traffic problems.”
“Never met the guy,” said one prominent hostess, a sentence repeated by several others on D.C.’s A-list. The few introduced to him since he moved to Washington in late 2007 say it was only for a handshake at some large business gathering. No one can recall seeing him at any of the town’s signature fundraisers, parties or openings — only at very small, private dinner parties at his $4 million home near Rock Creek Park or at the homes of friends.
Not that he was in Washington much: He spent half of his time traveling and dedicated the time he was here to restoring the reputation of the international financial institution. As he geared up for a 2012 campaign against President Nicolas Sarkozy, he devoted more and more time to his native France.
The New York-born Sinclair — Strauss-Kahn’s third wife — is almost as well known in France as her husband. For several years, the art heiress (her grandfather was Picasso's dealer) hosted the country’s top political show, interviewing global leaders and entertainers one-on-one for a hour. (Think Katie Couric/Charlie Rose.) She left television when her husband became finance minister, then launched another career as a writer, radio host and now, an influential blogger.
“They are very, very well known in France, “ said Apolline de Malherbe, Washington correspondent for France’s news network BFMTV. “In D.C., they concentrated more on their private life.”
De Malherbe penned a profile of Strauss-Kahn for the June issue of Washingtonian magazine — ironically, to introduce Americans to France’s potential presidential couple. The journalist met them only twice, both times at the French Embassy in D.C. (they’re rarely seen even in French circles here) and wrote that they spend most of their time with family, barbequing or eating at Cafe Milano or French restaurants; the little socializing they do in the U.S. tends to be in New York. Although they’ve granted plenty of interviews with French publications, they wouldn’t talk about their life for this one.
“They’re pretty good at keeping it secret,” she said. “I think they’re not much interested in the American public. They were happy to be anonymous in this city.”