Obamas set a high bar for Washington power couples

By Carol Eisenberg

February 17, 2009 at 8:04am
Washington power couples

Top couples
1) Barack Obama and Michelle Obama
2) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton
3) John F. Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry
4) Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Jill Biden
5) Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and Ann Dibble Jordan
Complete list >>

They are America’s favorite power couple. More ubiquitous than Brangelina. Better connected than Harry Evans and Tina Brown. Hipper than Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni.

It could be argued that Barack and Michelle Obama arrived in the White House with more juice than almost any First Couple besides Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Each graduated from Harvard Law School, then built a fantastically successful career - he in politics; she in government and hospital administration. As a couple, they compounded their clout and connections.

In many ways, they represent a generational, as well as a political shift in Washington.

With that in mind, Muckety decided to take a fresh look at Washington’s power couples. Our databases offer only a partial insight into the complicated DC universe, and paths of influence are still developing under the new administration.

So our list is an admittedly incomplete one, emphasizing newer players such as Adrian Fenty, the youngest man ever elected Washington mayor (at 35), who is married to his law school sweetheart, Michelle Cross Fenty, a global technology specialist at international law firm, Perkins Coie.

We take note of the capital’s inveterate power duos, of course, such as NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell and her husband, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and uber-lawyer Robert Barnett, and his wife, Rita Braver, a correspondent for CBS News.

But we make no apology for eliminating some perennials such as former Sens. Robert and Elizabeth Dole, as well as former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, using the verdict of the polls as a litmus of power.

Of course, no such list would be complete without Bill and Hillary Clinton, the power couple extraordinaire now traveling the world as global humanitarian and secretary of state, respectively.

Beyond the Clintons, some of the more intriguing pairings in the Obama administration include:

  • Obama’s law school friend Julius Genachowski, tapped as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who is married to former copyright attorney-turned documentary filmmaker Rachel Goslins. Goslins’ latest project is about Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II.
  • Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who is married to Ian Cameron, executive producer of ABC’s Sunday morning news show, This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder, deputy attorney general in Bill Clinton’s administration, whose spouse is Dr. Sharon Malone, a former IBM systems engineer who switched her career in midstream to go to medical school to become an obstetrician.
  • Energy czar Carol Browner, who is the wife of former Long Island congressman Tom Downey, now a lobbyist and chair of Downey McGrath Group, in partnership with another former Long Island congressman, Ray McGrath.
  • White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, married to Margaret “Derry” Noyes, art director and designer of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.

If Annette L. Nazareth, a former Securities and Exchange commissioner, were tapped as Treasury undersecretary, as some predict, she and her husband, Roger W. Ferguson Jr., head of TIAA-CREF and a former Federal Reserve governor, would be a heavyweight couple as well.

Of course, Washington has always had its share of charged couples – of which the Clintons are only one archetype.

A surprising number of lawmakers are married to lobbyists, among them: North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat, married to Lucy J. Calautti, a lobbyist for Major League Baseball; North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, also a Democrat, married to insurance industry lobbyist Kimberly Dorgan; and Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, married to Abigail Perlman Blunt, lobbyist for tobacco giant, Altria.

A few are the spouses of moguls.

California lawmakers Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman, are all married to wealthy businessmen - Pelosi to Paul Pelosi, a San Francisco financier whose investments have made her one of Congress’ wealthiest members.

Harman’s spouse is industrialist and high-fidelity pioneer Sidney Harman, founder of Harman International Industries, an exuberant philanthropist who lavishes his money on such causes as Washington’s Shakespeare Theater.

Feinstein is married to millionaire businessman Richard C. Blum, president of Blum Capital, and the chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of California.

While not married to a mogul exactly, Sen. Chris Dodd is hitched to a business powerhouse - Jackie Clegg Dodd, a former top executive at the Export-Import Bank who is now managing partner of Clegg International Consultants, a strategic consulting firm, and who sits on at least five corporate boards.

Then there are the cadre of insiders drawn from the worlds of law, business and government, who weave in and out of those universes as administrations come and go.

The prototype might be Frederic Malek, who worked for Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, then made millions buying and selling companies and now chairs Thayer Capital Partners, and his wife, Marlene, the president of the National Cancer Advisory Board.

“He could relax a mouse who was about to be eaten by a cat,” as a Washington Post profile of Fred Malek put it.

Both Fred and Marlene Malek are active in a variety of political and philanthropic and arts activities - both legendary for the ability to raise millions with a few phone calls.

Other longstanding power duos include Joseph B. Gildenhorn, a real estate mogul, former ambassador to Switzerland and chairman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and his wife, Alma Gildenhorn, a philanthropist and trustee of the Aspen Institute and the Kennedy Center.

Of special note are the relative newcomers on our list, who show signs of becoming the next generation’s movers and shakers.

One example is CNN analyst Campbell Brown, who met her husband, Daniel S. Senor, in Iraq when he was the chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and she was covering the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. (He is back in DC working as a venture capitalist and as an analyst for Fox News).

Another rising couple is Kirk Adams, a top player with the Service Employees International Union, the union which played a pivotal role in Obama’s election, who is married to Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

And, finally, we list up-and-coming entrepreneurs Khalid Pitts, director of political accountability for the Service Employees International Union, and his wife Diane Gross, a former civil rights lawyer and counsel to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who leveraged their connections to open Cork, a wine bar that has become the favored watering hole of members of the new administration.

“We don’t really consider ourselves a power couple,” Pitts said. “But the attention we have gotten from the restaurant has been something beyond our wildest dreams.”

See the full list of power couples

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  • #1.   TACOM 02.18.2009

    What better way to establish our caste system than to publish the list of millionaires for all to see. You forgot to identify Rahm Emmanuel, who surely qualifies on the basis of his fantastic success at amassing money on Wall Street at such a young and tender age. Surely his connections alone should qualify him for membership is this elite bunch of crooks.

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