News & Politics

4 DC-Specific Questions After the Bezos Divorce

Jeff Bezos in Washington in September 2018. Photograph by Evy Mages

This week, billionaire couple Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced they had finalized details of their forthcoming divorce, which stands to be the largest such settlement in history. MacKenzie Bezos, for what it’s worth, was not simply a spouse who was along for the ride: The couple’s early romance is braided into the origin story of Amazon, and as the two set out by car to Seattle (after making a brief trip to AOL headquarters Washington, DC).

The quick-and-dirty of the settlement is this: Jeff Bezos will retain three-fourths of the couple’s shares in Amazon, making him the largest shareholder in Amazon, while MacKenzie Bezos will hold 4 percent of shares, worth $35 billion—which would make her the fourth-wealthiest woman alive.

We’ll leave it to finance people to figure out bigger business implications buried in the announcement. Instead, we’ll focus our curiosity as Washingtonians on some have more parochial concerns. Jeff Bezos already addressed the biggest one—MacKenzie Bezos has transferred her share of the Post (and Blue Origin, which has a small office in Virginia) to her spouse. But considering that his presence around town has been a subject of growing attention the last in recent years, there’s still plenty to ask concerning the effect of the divroce on the Bezoses engagement with the city.

There are several remaining questions about the couple that could bear out in the various hamlets of Washington life:

How often will the two still come to town?

Before the divorce—and the tumultuous, politically tinged circumstances that led to it—Jeff Bezos was believed to have traveled to Washington more times per year than any other American city (an observation seemingly confirmed by flight records of his private jet, which found to dock at Reagan National).

Business appeared to bring the Bezoses to town more than any other factor—the jet trips were timed with sightings at the Washington Post, or announcements in the much-vaunted “HQ2” selection process—but high profile social functions have also occupied the couple’s time here, such as the Alfalfa Club dinner. At last year’s function, though, Bezos’ guest wasn’t his spouse, but an Amazon board member.

And if MacKenzie Bezos does find cause to mill around Washington, how will she travel? The fourth-richest woman alive is likely not given to flying coach (a new jet may be in order).

What’s the fate of the mansion?

The Bezoses own the largest residential property in town, a 27,000-square-foot mansion in the former Textile Museum, in the Kalorama neighborhood. The property is undergoing extensive renovations, administered by the Cherry Revocable Trust.

Friends of the Bezoses told Washingtonian that one purpose of the property is to reclaim the legacy of Kay Graham, another Post boss who was known for convening the movers and shakers of the city’s far-flung sectors. In Bezos’ case, the soirees might come with an eye to incubating solutions in policy or tech with the aid of social lubrication. (An impressive ballroom certainly will be of use.)

But the other segment of the property—the so-called Pope House—is clearly designed for family life, with rooms for the couple’s children, a family dining room, whiskey cellar, and a large, master bedroom. That, too, was how the Bezoses representatives described the intentions of their clients, according to minutes from an ANC meeting. “They’re a really nice family,” the representative, “and they absolutely love” the neighborhood. (Befitting the mansion’s gargantuan size, the master bedroom has two dressing rooms—but as far as we can tell, it was only supposed to have one bed.)

The settlement details have not mention anything about the Cherry Revocable Trust, but it may be the most telling detail about how the couple imagine their future life in Washington.

Finally, is the mansion’s timetable for renovation—which it’s been undergoing for nearly two years—it still on track? (Entire buildings have been built conceived and erected during the time Kalorama residents have been waiting for their new neighbors to move in.)

Who will they hang out with?

The Bezoses have several friends in the region, including Steve Case and Jean Case, of AOL. (The two couples sat in the Cases’ living room a few years back discussing their plans for their life in Washington.)

More to the point, their refocus on Washington evoked something else that was true about the couple: Both have a place for the East Coast in their heart. MacKenzie Bezos attended the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, and both attended Princeton, in the early ’90s, and met at D.E. Shaw, a hedge fund in New York, where the very nearly made a permanent life.

In their announcements following the divorce, both have used the term “co-parents” and “friends,” meaning their lives could very well still overlap in the capital city.

Will we learn about any of this in the Washington Post?

The Post has done an admirable job, all told, covering the Bezoses’ business enterprises. On the other hand, does anyone really want to write about their owner’s nasty divorce?

Jeff Bezos has steered clear of his own paper on the subject—publishing his accusatory National Enquirer letter on Medium. MacKenzie Bezos announced the terms of their divorce this week on Twitter; Jeff Bezos echoed her message. The Post, meanwhile, gave the divorce news front page coverage Friday.

Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a contributing editor at Washingtonian.