Strauss-Kahn’s parents had a rough marriage, too. His father, an attorney who moved them around from Africa to Paris to Monaco in search of clients, who never seemed to be plentiful, was manic-depressive and often seen around with a pretty thing on his arm. “My husband let himself be controlled by his demon of collecting [women] and nice slips,” Strauss-Kahn’s mother explained in her memoirs. “I suffered every time he went out looking, and sometimes I left with the children. Yet he always returned to me, each time more affectionate than before.” From his father, Strauss-Kahn learned that it was easy to make women do what you wanted, as long as you were firm. At 16, he fell in love for the first time with Hélène Dumas, a girl from his high school. “At the beginning, it wasn’t mutual,” Dumas has said. “He didn’t interest me terribly much. But Dominique was tenacious. When he wants something, he will not let go. So he got what he wanted.”
The couple was married a year later, while Strauss-Kahn was still in high school, and he applied to business school with the goal of entering the public sector. “I could have earned a fortune at the head of a private company,” he has said. “But I suffered too much in my youth from the perpetual precariousness of my father’s profession.” With anti-Gaullist politics that began as Marxist and turned Keynesian over time, he rose through the university ranks and found work as the Socialist Party’s economics commissioner, his first step up the political ladder. In 1983, he left Dumas for Brigitte Guillemette, the director of a PR company. With her help, he was transformed from a musty economist with a beard and thick glasses into a middling political player in tailored suits. But even Guillemette couldn’t take him to the top tier—for that, he would need Sinclair.
Sinclair began her career in radio, interviewing political figures and editing a newsletter for Mendès France on the side. She met her first husband, Ivan Levaï, the political chief of the station, and they began a love affair after he took her under his wing. She proved to be an empathetic interviewer and moved into TV in the seventies, eventually achieving her dream of hosting her own Charlie Rose–ish talk show, 7 sur 7, at the end of the decade, interviewing guests from Mikhail Gorbachev to Madonna. Her face was used as the model for a new bust of Marianne, the female emblem of the French Republic, that stood in many town halls. On her show, she never made a secret of her political leanings; when Chirac was prime minister, he once said to her onscreen, “Excuse me, Madame Sinclair, but let me give you a piece of advice: Turn to the right. One time does not make it a custom.”
Sinclair hosted Strauss-Kahn, then the president of France’s finance commission, on her monthly special in 1989. Both of them were still married, but Sinclair’s husband Levaï was working five days a week on a radio show in a faraway province. Strauss-Kahn asked her to lunch at a Parisian power restaurant, where they discussed their childhoods and Judaism while he loosened the knot of his tie, asking, “How come we never met each other earlier in our lives?” Unlike most of his seductions, with Sinclair, Strauss-Kahn was patient, and it was she, according to Rambert and Revel, who eventually broke down, sending him a love letter. They were married a year later in a ceremony so private that they requested a waiver from the government as a promise that photographs wouldn’t find their way into the press. (Levaï, who has said with some regret that “Elie Wiesel told me that when one has as beautiful a wife as Anne, one must stay near her,” has nevertheless claimed the breakup with Sinclair was amicable.)
When Strauss-Kahn became France’s finance minister, Sinclair decided to leave her position on television, claiming that she felt her work would be compromised by this personal partnership. It’s possible that she was making too much of crossing this ethical line, because her show, now over a decade old, was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, and at 50, she may have come to the end of her stardom, with no obvious place to land professionally afterward. She had become frustrated with the political class in France and didn’t want to stand on the sidelines any longer. “It is his fight, his life, and I will be by his side,” she declared later to Le Monde.
As their marriage evolved, Sinclair was Strauss-Kahn’s chief adviser and sounding board—but that’s not all. She also provided funds for Strauss-Kahn’s campaigns, including a large apartment on Rue Laplanche for a campaign headquarters, the secretaries, the website, the publicity account with Euro RSCG. “Strauss-Kahn is widely considered intelligent and often described as brilliant, but when you look back on it, he hasn’t had such a stellar political career,” says Arthur Goldhammer, an affiliate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. “The fact is that the element that has put him at the top of the heap politically is his wife’s money. Euro RSCG has four staff members, I’ve heard, assigned to keeping him in the news. He has been able to campaign more or less permanently for almost twenty years.”