The Amazon founder and Washington Post owner has quietly become a freewheeling DC socialite—and soon he'll be spending more time here, in the mammoth Kalorama home his family is renovating. What brought the tech giant to town in the first place? And what does he do, exactly, while he's around? The story of how the world's richest man is becoming a Washingtonian.
Late one drizzly night this past January, Jeff Bezos strode through the front door of the Jefferson hotel, burnished from an evening spent consorting with the Washington power set and smiling in plain view. This year, the Amazon founder, who is worth more than $110 billion, became the richest person alive. Here at the Jefferson, around 11:30 pm on a Saturday, a flicker of his unstudied private life appeared.
Bezos wore blue jeans and a teal vest, the approximation of an Eddie Bauer model, and across his cocked elbow, his wife, MacKenzie, dangled two palms with practiced ease. His security detail, for which Amazon pays $1.6 million a year, was nowhere in sight. The wealthiest man on earth appeared simply to have walked up 16th Street, untroubled by courtiers and well-wishers (or the occasional protester). A brood of ruddy-faced tourists, who collected and dispersed in the hotel lobby, would not pirouette as the couple sliced through their gaze. Actually, no one offered so much as a glance. When I alerted the concierge to the whiff of celebrity in our midst, the young woman cocked a quizzical eye across the table: “Who’s Jeff Bezos?”
Soon we’ll all know him. You may even bump into the man. Just as Bezos has busied himself pushing his Seattle company to new feats, the inventor of the “everything store” has been quietly moonlighting in a town that, friends say, he views as an everything city—a delta of diplomats and techies, military engineers and journalists, powerbrokers and problem solvers, a mélange perfectly suited to the tinkerer’s heterodox taste. Confidants report that Bezos spends more time in Washington than in any other city outside of Seattle—ten trips a year, give or take—and for good reason. Not content merely to own the local newspaper, the retail guru has become the owner of the largest home in DC. In 2016, he bought the former Textile Museum, a 27,000-square-foot mansion in Kalorama, and last year he began a massive renovation and expansion—the plans for which foretell the ambitiousness of the life he intends to have here. All of this prefigures the question of whether Amazon will bring its new headquarters—HQ2, in the parlance of the 20 municipalities vying to win it—to Washington, too.
“What he’s going to do is revive the legacy of Kay Graham and her great socializing—bringing smart, interesting people together in a social context,” says Jean Case, referring to the late Washington Post publisher. Case and her husband, Steve, the cofounder of AOL, have been friends with the Bezoses since the mid-’90s. Over breakfast in front of the fireplace at the Cases’ home earlier this year, Bezos described his plans. “That’s how they see this house that they’re renovating in Kalorama,” Case says. “They’ll really use it as a magnet of smart, interesting people from all walks.”Bezos is attracted — like a moth to light — to Washington.
It makes sense that a billionaire with numerous interests before the federal government might resurrect Graham’s fabled salons—to some, an artifact of a time when politics was supposedly less blood sport. Yet Bezos also owns homes in Beverly Hills, West Texas, and New York. His infatuation with the nation’s capital provokes its own riddle even among those who know him. “It’s a bit of a mystery to me—whether he has political ambitions or thinks he needs to be on the right side of Washington, for Amazon,” one friend of the Bezos family admits. Yet “Bezos is attracted—like a moth to light—to Washington.”
Conversations with more than 40 people in or around Bezos’s circle offer some insight into what brings his jet to town and what he does when he gets here—a curiosity that Washingtonians (and Bezos’s employees and politicians and HQ2 speculators) are all eager to unspool. Given our city’s infamous weakness for celebrity, the predictable scramble to receive him will etch itself into the history of this town—perhaps as much as the man will himself.
Bezos’s January visit to the Jefferson came on the night that the Alfalfa Club, of which he is a member, convened its annual gathering. Formed in 1913, Alfalfa is Washington’s private confab of the economic and political elite. (An unofficial motto I heard while observing the promenade: “One long guest list, one-fourth our GDP.”) At this year’s dinner, Bezos was flanked by Patty Stonesifer—who serves on Amazon’s board and directs the DC nonprofit Martha’s Table—and billionaire fashion designer Tory Burch.
Bezos might have had his eye on a few other dignitaries, too: At the foot of the Capital Hilton’s grand staircase, he appeared to exchange pleasantries with Chris Dodd—former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a man who has no small insight into Amazon’s fortunes in movie streaming. Elsewhere mingled Defense Secretary James Mattis, who, the Pentagon has acknowledged, receives individual advice from Bezos from time to time. Mattis’s regulatory sway over Bezos’s rocket company, Blue Origin—which plans to pursue national-security launch contracts—was important enough for Bezos to host him in Seattle last year. A few tables away sat attorney general Jeff Sessions, who thus far has demonstrated a mercurial attitude toward antitrust policy, a verboten notion at Amazon these days.
Currying favor, though, seems not to have animated Bezos’s outings to date. To the surprise of most who work there, Bezos hardly sets foot in Amazon’s Washington office. Instead, insiders say it’s the Post and Blue Origin that exert the most pull, as well as a smattering of awards and public events. Trips, generally by way of his G650 Gulfstream jet, typically last one or two days; he stays in fashionable hotels—the Jefferson, the St. Regis, the Four Seasons—and holds court at the most popular Washington canteens: Cafe Milano, Le Diplomate, Minibar, Fiola Mare. Perhaps less predictably, he’s known to eschew his security detail at times.That’s definitely a different Bezos from what we saw here
About three years ago, Bezos began presiding over small gatherings—typically over dinner, and something of a hybrid between cocktail-hour chatter and a TED Talk colloquy. Attendees saw a lesser-known side of the tech mogul: Jeff Bezos the host, the cocktail enthusiast, the busy father.
Friends suggest it was through these encounters that Bezos grew to think of the city as an enthralling crossroads. “Part of the appeal to DC in general to Jeff is that it’s much more vibrant and diverse than it used to be,” says one person familiar with his thinking. “It’s not just a government/journalist town anymore.” As the region began to exude the trappings of concentrated wealth—higher rents, flashier restaurants, tech arrivistes content to shout their success—Amazon’s CEO kept finding more reasons to visit....MUCH MORERecently on Mr. B:
"Jeff Bezos on breaking up and regulating Amazon" (AMZN)
"How does the world’s richest man renovate? Floor plans reveal Jeff Bezos’ big ideas for $23M D.C. mansion"
Jeff Bezos Letter to Amazon Shareholders (including 1st disclosure of Amazon Prime membership #'s and perfect handstands)
"Jeff Bezos Gave a Sneak Peek Into Amazon’s Future" (AMZN)
Cloud Computing: The Pentagon Is Going To Award a Contract Worth Up to $10 Billion, Amazon Wants It, So Does Google (AMZN, GOOG)
Jeff Bezos Will Probably Consolidate His Power Bases In The Washington D.C. Area (AMZN)
...Additionally the new location is (relatively) near CIA headquarters which is handy as Amazon is becoming quite the little spy contractor.
Also at Business Insider, Nov. 2017:
Amazon is launching a 'Secret' cloud service for the CIA
- Amazon Web Services introduced Secret Region, a new service specifically for the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community.
- It's not really a secret service: It's name just indicates it can handle data that's been classified at the "secret" level.
- Amazon has offered the CIA a Top Secret Region since 2014 as part of a $600 million deal.
- The extension of that older CIA deal with this new Secret service underlines the market dominance of AWS.
And, as noted on the map above, the possible location is also conveniently close to Mr. Bezos' house, although in his case the choice is not as clear-cut as when then-head of supercomputer manufacturer Cray Research when asked where the company might relocate its headquarters answered: "Draw a circle with a twenty mile radius around the CEO's home."That gets us back to March 31, 2018. For More, or for AMZN, use the 'search blog' box, top left.
Mr. Bezos owns five houses and
300,000400,000 acres in Texas.