News & Politics

At Least Washington Finally Has Interesting Billionaires Now

Thanks, Donald?

Photograph via Redfin.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that its owner, Jeff Bezos, is the new owner of the biggest house in Washington, a 27,000-square-foot Kalorama mansion that once housed the Textile Museum, but will now be converted into a private residence. Bezos, who bought the Post in 2013, isn’t moving here full-time, but he’ll use it as an “East Coast pied-a-terre” after a few years of staying in hotels while making his semi-regular visits to his investment.

For all the accusations from right-wing critics that Washington is somehow “too wealthy,” the capital’s richest residents—Dan Synder aside—really don’t live up to the cartoonish villainy. After Snyder, our most talked-about billionaires are his fellow sports-team owners, Ted Leonsis and Ted Lerner, and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein.

Still, when Leonsis and Lerner aren’t trying to squeeze the DC government for stadium financing, they’re generally considered to be average-to-good team owners who want to bring home championships; and Rubenstein is better known for his “patriotic giving” brand of philanthropy, like the multiple checks he’s written in hopes of fixing up the Washington Monument. But when’s the last time we heard anything from Mitchell or Stephen Rales, candy heiress Jacqueline Mars, or Rubenstein’s Carlyle co-founders Bill Conway and Daniel D’Aniello? Outside of sports and Rubenstein, DC’s billionaires are a fairly quiet bunch, not really the scary “billyunayuhs” of a Bernie Sanders rally.

That’s all changing thanks to Donald Trump. It’s hard for anyone, regardless of net worth, to be as colorful as the President-elect. But DC really feels like the invasion of the billionaires is truly underway. There are the billionaires Trump plans to appoint to his cabinet, like Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary and Betsy DeVos for education secretary. Ross and DeVos are plenty troubling on policy grounds, but they also cast pretty bland figures. Fortunately, there are other billionaires in Trump’s orbit who fit the bill.

Linda McMahon, Trump’s nominee for head of the Small Business Association, is technically not a billionaire in her own right, but her husband, WWE chief executive Vince McMahon (net worth $1.14 billion) is perhaps the only one in America who can match Trump in his capacity for manufactured hysteria. (He’s certainly the only one to be clotheslined by Trump, who is also a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.) Chicago Cubs fans may have conflicted feelings about Todd Ricketts, who owns the World Series-winning team, being Ross’s deputy at the Commerce Department. And while Peter Thiel—who has expressed interest in receiving blood transfusions from young people in order to extend his life—says he won’t be taking a formal role in the Trump administration, the investor will likely stay in the White House’s orbit after serving as a liaison Trump Tower and less-Trump-friendly Silicon Valley executives like Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

But the billionaire invasion started feeling really real on Thursday with Bezos being revealed as the mystery buyer of  that 27,000-square-foot mansion for a billionaires-only price of $23 million, a full $1 million above the previous owner’s asking price. Perhaps this was just an inevitable, completely innocuous development because Bezos simply intends to sleep there when he flies in from Seattle to visit his newspaper. Or maybe it’s because there are finally other billionaires in DC whose moves spark as much global fascination as his own. Either way, DC’s billionaires are finally as interesting as anywhere else’s.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.