Backing Her Man; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, With Her Impressive Resources
- By STEVEN ERLANGER and MAĆ¸A DE LA BAUME - May 21, 2011 - The New York Times
PARIS — She was much more famous than her husband, and much wealthier, too.
Now she joins the unhappy club of wives standing by their man in the face of a crescendo of tales of sexual betrayal, spurred in her case by extraordinary and tawdry criminal charges of attempted rape of a hotel maid.
When Anne Sinclair married Dominique Strauss-Kahn in November 1991, she was a famous television journalist, her brown hair and steely blue eyes a fixture on the most popular interview show in the country, called “7/7.” She did over 500 interviews, including of presidents like François Mitterrand, Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton, as well as Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady, and stars like Yves Montand and even Madonna. The show attracted as many as 12 million viewers every Sunday.
The 1991 marriage was a love match — Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been married twice before and had four children, and she had been married once and had two children of her own. The New York-born child of a family who fled to America to escape the Nazis, and of a father who had the code-name “Sinclair” in the French Resistance, she insisted on a Jewish ceremony after the legal exchange of vows in a Paris city hall.
And as a measure of her beauty and fame, she was married in a room with a bust of Marianne — the symbol of freedom and republican pride in France — that was modeled on her. Her face was not only on most French televisions, but in every city hall.
The two met, predictably, on a television set in 1989. Michel Taubmann, who wrote a recent biography of Mr. Strauss-Kahn timed for a possible presidential campaign, said: “She was subjugated by his intelligence and charm.”
She quit her show after 13 years to avoid a conflict of interest when her husband became finance minister in 1997. She herself became deputy director of channel TF1 and later, director general of its Internet arm. “When you spend 13 years interviewing politicians,” she said then, “you aren’t fascinated by power anymore.”
Still, she was the driving force behind Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s political ambitions, and her wealth, inherited from her grandfather, the art dealer Paul Rosenberg, enabled the couple to live lavishly and independently, with two extraordinary apartments in Paris, a $4 million house in Georgetown and a riad in Marrakesh.
She also helped finance a group of political advisers, press aides and Internet sites that were preparing the ground for what was soon supposed to be a triumphant return to France for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, to begin a race for the presidency many thought he would win.
“She always wanted to prove that, 75 years after Léon Blum, the French were capable of electing a Jew,” a friend told Le Monde. “In her eyes, that would be a formidable revenge on history.”
But her close friend of many years, Alain Duhamel, said in an interview that “she feared the campaign a lot — she knew it would be a great sacrifice in her way of life.” She and her husband considered their religion, he said, “a practical question for the campaign,” not some great cause.
Repeated efforts to contact Ms. Sinclair, through her friends and spokeswoman, both here and in New York, where she flew to see her husband, were unsuccessful.
THE same age as her husband, 62, she was born Anne-Élise Schwartz. Her father, Joseph-Robert Schwartz, legally took the name Sinclair a year later, in 1949; her mother, Micheline Nanette Rosenberg, was painted by Picasso, who called her “Michou.” From Mr. Rosenberg, one of Picasso’s early champions, the family inherited part of a collection of paintings worth many millions of dollars. Just one Matisse, “L’Odalisque, Harmonie Bleue,” was sold in 2007 at Christie’s for $33.6 million.
Ms. Sinclair is on the board of the Picasso Museum in Paris and is writing a book about her grandfather and his life. She graduated from the Institute for Political Studies in Paris and in law from the University of Paris, beginning her career as a radio journalist for Europe 1.
Elie Wiesel was a close friend of Ms. Sinclair and her first husband, the Hungarian-born journalist Ivan Levaï, whose mother brought him to France as a child and was then deported, killed by the Nazis. Mr. Levaï, who was hidden in the French countryside, once called her “too beautiful for me.” The couple’s second son, Elie, is named after Mr. Wiesel.
“She was charming, intelligent, famous in the best sense of the word,” Mr. Wiesel said. “She was a combination of Charlie Rose and Barbara Walters, very well read, very well prepared.”
But there is no way to prepare for the kind of purgatory Ms. Sinclair has entered since her husband’s arrest a week ago on charges of attempted rape. She was in Paris awaiting the birth of her first grandchild when, according to Paris Match, she got a call from her husband about 11 p.m., or 5 p.m. in New York, just after the police pulled him off an Air France plane about to leave the gate.
Her face turned pale. He reportedly told her there was “a serious problem.”
On Sunday she issued a statement unreservedly backing her husband and saying that she did not believe the charges against him, and then flew to Manhattan, where she has undertaken to pay Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s $1 million bail and the other costs associated with it — including an apartment, an electronic bracelet and armed guards provided by a company authorized by the court.
“I don’t believe for a single second the accusations of sexual assault by my husband,” she said. “I am certain his innocence will be proven.”
BUT she is already learning the hard price of intense media attention. Having taken two apartments in a building where rents can run to $14,000 a month, she was told that her husband was not welcome there. For now, he is staying in quarters provided by the company that is in charge of his security.
There is no doubt that Ms. Sinclair was aware of her husband’s skirt-chasing, but in public, at least, seemed not to care. Asked in 2006 by L’Express if she suffered from his reputation as a womanizer, she said: “No! I’m even proud of it. It’s important to seduce, for a politician. As long as he is still attracted to me, and I to him, it is sufficient.”
Mr. Duhamel said that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s behavior was talked about among her friends, but not with her. “This is something she didn’t want to hear,” he said. “Her choice has always been that of passionate solidarity with him.”
The largely unexamined history of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s relationships was highlighted in 2008, when he was investigated by the International Monetary Fund for abuse of power when he had an affair with a married Hungarian economist, Piroska Nagy. The bank concluded that the affair was consensual and rebuked him, but he kept his job. He hired a public-relations firm and issued a statement regretting the affair and apologizing to Ms. Sinclair.
She then wrote on her blog — “Two or three things seen from America” — that “everyone knows that those things happen in couples’ lives; this one-night adventure is behind us.”
In his letter of resignation from the I.M.F., written from jail, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said, “I think at this time first of my wife — whom I love more than anything — of my children, of my family, of my friends.”
Mr. Wiesel expressed sadness for Ms. Sinclair. “There is a Talmudic saying, ‘No one is the owner of his instincts,’ ” he said. “But controlling them, that is civilization.”
On April 30, Ms. Sinclair wrote about the wedding of Prince William. “I can understand those who didn’t miss a crumb. As if, quite simply, we were like children who, before going to sleep, want a tale, a story with a princess and a dream, because real life catches up with you soon enough.....”