Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife, Anne Sinclair, arrived in Washington four years ago as one of Europe’s celebrated power couples — he a potential candidate for president of France, she the Katie Couric of French television.
But on their quiet Georgetown street, that celebrity never quite registered until a fateful spring weekend, when Strauss-Kahn was arrested by New York police and drawn into the vortex of an international sex scandal.
The former International Monetary Fund leader has not set foot in the $4 million brick Georgian row house on Dumbarton Street since his May 14 arrest on an accusation that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid. Freed from house arrest Friday after questions emerged about the credibility of his accuser, Strauss-Kahn has been living at a rented $50,000-a-month townhouse in the Tribeca section of Manhattan.
Strauss-Kahn, a household name in France, told an interviewer months ago that he enjoyed his comparative anonymity in the United States. When denizens of Georgetown learned of his arrest, most were just as surprised to discover that he was their neighbor.
“I remember when he bought the house,” said Nancy Taylor Bubes, a real estate agent in the East Village section of Georgetown, home of the Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair residence. “And I never heard another word about him. Never saw him on the street. I think most people in the community were shocked to know that he even lived here.”
Clearly, Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair did not come to Georgetown looking for block parties and neighborly chats. They chose a home on a dead-end street, across from a public park but flanked by few other dwellings. When he was in town, Strauss-Kahn went to and from IMF headquarters in a chauffeur-driven car.
“He was one that didn’t sort of wave or be a part of the community,” said Rebecca Klemm, 61, who lives across the street from the Strauss-Kahn dwelling in a green brick home. “I didn’t even talk to him, and I’ve talked to everyone else in the neighborhood.”
The Georgetown residence is twice as large as other homes on the block. Only its size — and a pair of dome-covered surveillance cameras — betray the elevated stature of the owners.
When Strauss-Kahn took the top IMF job in 2007, the French power couple expected to find Washington rather provincial compared with New York or Paris. They were pleasantly surprised to find “a very international city, open, culturally and intellectually very much alive,” Sinclair wrote in winter 2008 on her political blog. The French name of the blog translates to “Two or Three Things Seen from America.”
She wrote of traveling to the Source theater on 14th Street NW to see a Vaclav Havel play, of getting lost on Leesburg Pike trying to find a favorite Chinese restaurant and of the joys of the Kennedy Center in late afternoon.
“Of course, I am always irritated by the ‘wow,’ the ‘you are soooo nice,’ the ‘I loooove your shoes, they are gorgeous!’ from the woman who is with you in the line at the bank counter,” she wrote. But part of Washington’s appeal, she wrote, is that “it’s not completely American.”
The couple hosted an Election Night party in 2008; neighbor Donald Anderson recalls a packed house. Another time, Anderson said, he and Strauss-Kahn joined forces to shovel snow that had drifted “literally up to the door handles” of their cars after a fierce 2010 storm.
Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair seem to have largely skirted Washington society. Carol Joynt, a Georgetown writer, recalls seeing them once at a party, “and in a room of Washington power, they did not stand out. They stood beside me, diminutive, dour and quiet.”
Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair also own homes in Paris and Marrakesh, Morocco. Much of their fortune comes from the U.S.-born Sinclair, who is a European media celebrity and heiress to an art fortune. Sinclair’s grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, was an art dealer who represented Picasso. The family fled Paris during the Nazi occupation and settled in New York.
One of the most iconic faces of France, Sinclair hosted the influential political program “7/7” from 1984 to 1997, interviewing the likes of Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. She left to avoid potential conflict with her husband’s political career.
The June issue of Washingtonian magazine features a profile — written before the arrest — that was meant as a sort of coming-out story for the Georgetown couple. In the piece, Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair recount the joys of dining incognito at Georgetown’s European-style bistros.
One was Bistrot Lepic on Wisconsin Avenue, where co-owner Cyrille Brenac said he hosted the couple every three or four months. “They were just like regular guests,” he said, and they favored the pate.
Staff writer Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.