A selective list of top families whose wealth, political clout, and philanthropy allow them to make a major difference in the life of the nation’s capital
Brothers Mitchell and Steven Rales earned billions by buying and selling dozens of small companies. Mitchell is currently one of the world’s top collectors of abstract impressionist art and is one day expected to transfer much of what he now displays in his private museum in Potomac, Md., to the public domain.
Patriarch Joe Allbritton is 85 and semi-retired from the business and social scene. His son, Robert, continues to develop a communications empire that includes local TV stations WJLA and NewsChannel 8, the Politico website, and the soon-to-launch tbd.com.
Former “Drug Czar” Bill Bennett writes books while streaming his conservative Internet show, “Morning in America” to radio stations across the land; super lawyer brother Bob has represented Bill Clinton and John McCain in sex-related scandals and most recently reported to the D.C. City Council on some of the more recent transgressions of former Mayor Marion Barry.
The Vice President is on official travel much of the time; his wife, Jill, who has a Ph.D. in Education, works to raise awareness of the value of community colleges. Their son Beau Biden, a Yale-trained lawyer, is a partner at the Rosemont Seneca law firm in Washington.
Former First Brother Marvin Bush is a businessman with interests in insurance companies; his spunky wife Margaret (“Margo”) occasionally appears in local theater productions; sister Doro Bush Koch lives quietly in Bethesda where she supports various charities and non-profit groups.
Calvin and Jane Cafritz’s contributions to the city’s cultural and philanthropic scene are as many and myriad as the real estate projects the clan has developed over most of the last century. Calvin’s younger brothers, Conrad and Carter, are behind-the- scenes players in many business and charitable ventures players. Conrad’s ex-wife, former D.C. School Board Chairwoman Peggy Cooper Cafritz, recently resurfaced after her art-filled home was destroyed in a fire last year. Cousin William “Bill” Cafritz and his wife, Buffy, are mainstays of the Washington social scene.
The indomitably anti-Castro Cuban-American political dynasty will lose half of its congressional power in January when Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R.-Fla.) retires from his Miami-based seat after nine terms. His more conservative sibling, Mario, who now represents Ft. Lauderdale, has announced plans to seek election from his brother’s even more solidly Republican district.
Donald Graham presides from the corporate chairman’s seat after handing over the publishing reins of The Washington Post to his niece, Katharine Weymouth, who continues to battle declining circulation and revenue. Her indomitable mother, Lally Weymouth, surfaces at the odd A-List party and keeps au courant by contributing occasional Q&A’s with world political figures.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. retains firm control of his strongly Democratic Chicago congressional district after 14 years, although his popularity and family connections weren’t enough to make him a contender for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November. To his credit, the younger Jackson is no clone of his famous dad. In 2008, when Jesse Jackson Sr. made derogatory remarks about then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama, his son quickly rebuked him with a sharply worded defense.
The retirement of Rep. Patrick Kennedy at the end of his current term will mark the first time in 64 years that the famed American political dynasty will have no seat in Congress. He will be leaving Washington, perhaps for good, although his widowed step-mother, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, maintains a discreet profile here. Kara Kennedy, Patrick’s older sister, lives quietly with her children in the District and supports favored causes from time to time.
Ted Lerner came up the big winner when his giant family real estate company, Lerner Enterprises, won the city’s baseball franchise in 2006; now his quest is to keep the team on top as well. Along with his son, Mark Lerner, and sons-in-law, Edward Cohen and Robert Tanenbaum, he is also a minority partner in Lincoln Holdings, which owns the Washington Capitals and the Washington Mystics. Daughter Marla Lerner Tanenbaum directs philanthropic outreach as president of the Lerner Family Foundation and chairman of the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.
At $11 billion and counting, the notoriously press-shy Mars candy clan is, according to the latest (2010) installment of Forbes magazine’s “Billionaires List,” by far the wealthiest family in the Washington region. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the company’s main products (Snickers, M&M’s, Uncle Ben’s rice, pet food, chewing gum) are largely “recession proof.” Brothers Forrest and John Mars are now retired; their sister, Jacqueline, is an active and extremely generous supporter of the Washington National Opera.
Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the art-collecting widow of oil, banking and steel heir Paul Mellon, recently emerged from the shadows at the age of 99 when it was revealed she had quietly helped pay some personal bills of Rielle Hunter, the mistress of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Catherine Conover, Paul Mellon’s environmentally conscious daughter from a previous marriage, is rarely seen in public; her daughter, Virginia Warner (daughter of former Sen. John Warner), maintains a quiet existence in the Virginia hunt country as do cousins Lavinia and Andrea Currier, the enormously wealthy granddaughters of Paul’s sister, the late Ailsa Mellon Bruce.
John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s fourth and final White House chief of staff, serves as president of the liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, and teaches law at Georgetown University. He directed operations for the Obama Administration’s transition team but declined any offers of a position for himself. Big brother Tony Podesta heads one of the most successful bi-partisan lobbying firms in Washington and is a noted collector of contemporary modern art.
Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, usually a reliable partyline trooper, made news in February when he suggested there was a disconnect between the Obama administration’s rhetoric on coal mining and coal-driven power and the president’s actual policies. Coal is, after all, the “state rock” of West Virginia, which he has represented in the U.S. Senate since 1985. His wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, has been battling cancer but maintains a high profile as president and CEO of WETA, Washington’s public television station. Two of the couple’s four children live in the area. Charles Rockefeller is studying for a Business degree at Georgetown. John D. “Jamie” Rockefeller V teaches Literature at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Two cousinly colleagues currently represent the fourth generation of one of the American West’s most prominent political families in the U.S. Senate. Mark Udall, son of former Rep. Morris Udall, served in the House for ten years before winning a senate seat from Colorado in 2008. Thomas Udall, son of former congressman and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, was in Congress for the same ten-year period from New Mexico before winning his own Senate race there in 2008.