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Doubling Down

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"We don't consider ourselves to be that," says John Norris, newly arrived from Iowa to serve as chief of staff to Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture. "That isn't what trips our trigger."

Norris, 50, is married to Jackie Norris, 38, the chief of staff to Michelle Obama. They got engaged at the 2000 Democratic National Convention -- could there be more propitious launch into political coupledom? Later, as Iowa state director for Obama's campaign, Jackie Norris was crucial to delivering his first big win.

Now the Norrises have three young sons, including twins. Their life revolves around them, not "who's who at the zoo and what bars we can go to," as Jackie Norris put it. To the extent that power coupledom requires hitting the cocktail circuit -- the embassy parties, the charity galas, the book signings -- "I think we'll fall out of that pretty quickly," agrees John Norris. "My priority is to get home and play in the garden with my kids."

And in the new Washington landscape, it may raise one's stature to have kids: They expand your social circle and allow you to tap into the whole family-friendly "work-life balance" thing Michelle Obama always talks about. One insider recalls going to a function when the Obamas were staying at Blair House and noticing all these kids running around and playing on Wiis upstairs. (Children, like dogs and cats, have always made good conversation pieces.)

On the other hand, consider what White House Chief of Staff Emanuel recently told the New Yorker, in explaining his hesitation, as a father of three, to take the job: "No matter what every White House says -- 'We're going to be great, family-friendly' -- well, the only family we're going to be good for is the First Family. Everybody else is, like, really a distant second, O.K.?"

Some administration couples, with kids or not, almost certainly won't have time to do anything besides work themselves into exhaustion. Into this category we'd put Dan Pfeiffer, 33, and his wife, Sarah Feinberg, 31, both of whom toil in pressure-cooker jobs -- he as deputy White House communications director, she a senior adviser to Emanuel.

An acquaintance touted them as belonging at the "top of the list" of any story about power couples. They declined to comment. Via BlackBerry, of course.

Catering to the Crowd

Rule No. 3: To be a full-fledged power couple, you need a decent-size kitchen and/or the number of a good caterer. This is essential to staging one of those fabled dinner parties, which are usually held in a baroque-looking house somewhere on the Hill, Kalorama or Georgetown. But not always: Obama brings with him some young, urban cool; a nice downtown apartment will do.

Rufus Gifford, 34, and Jeremy Bernard, 44 -- leading candidates for Washington's new same-sex power couple -- just migrated from Los Angeles, where they raised millions of dollars for Obama. They landed a two-bedroom apartment in a trendy "green" building in Logan Circle.

"We had that conversation: Is it big enough to entertain," says Gifford, new finance director for the Democratic National Committee. "It's certainly more confined that we are used to, but we can fit a cocktail party for a couple dozen people."

Initiated to Washington ways as deputy treasurer for the Clinton '93 inaugural committee, Bernard has been appointed White House liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities. He and Gifford have been together three years; they placed on Out magazine's 2008 list of the country's 50 most influential gays.

"We had a certain amount of juice out West, but we're newcomers here and we're going to have to work hard," says Gifford, a former entertainment industry executive. He and Bernard mainly knew the Obama Chicago crowd from a distance, by phone. Here, "we will have time to cement relationships, and to expand the circle . . . and see what makes this town tick."

(That's easy: access to power, a.k.a. juice.)

In the Wings

Rule No. 4: Today's fresh-faced kids in the administration will be tomorrow's power couples. They meet and mate in the hothouse of the campaign, improbably end up in Washington, awestruck, and proceed to marry among their own kind.

Consider this 2002 wedding announcement in the New York Times for Antony Blinken and Evan Ryan:

"Ms. Ryan and Mr. Blinken met in 1995 at the White House, where she was special assistant to Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff and he was a special assistant to the President and the senior director for speechwriting."

Now when people are asked to nominate new power couples, the names Tony and Evan inevitably come up. Both work for Biden: He as national security adviser, she as the veep's aide for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison.

Titles matter for tomorrow's power couples, but not too much. Even the lowly assistant press secretary who merits no office window can always say, "I worked in Washington for President Obama."

It's a chit to dine out on and a résumé-booster for life. Because you were there, in the mix, and you knew them. (Even if they didn't know you.)

Which brings us to Rule No. 5:

There is only one Washington power couple who really matter, and everybody knows it. They live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

No wonder everyone else invokes Rule No. 1.


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