A new light on the Harman power couple

Aug 4th, 2010 | By politicsnews | Category: Politics

Sidney Harman and his wife, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) are most definitely a power couple: buckets of money, a glamorous, bi-coastal existence, Aspen Institute ties, vacations in Boca and beyond.

But at an age (he turns 92 on Wednesday and she is 65) when most people would be enjoying their retirement, they take work seriously, and do not shy away from new challenges.

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In other words, Sidney Harman’s buying Newsweek was no late-in-life lark of a purchase.

“Other billionaires might want a yacht or other expensive toys,” said Walter Isaacson, the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and a friend of the Harmans. “But Sidney likes being involved with civic life and the arts and ideas and that’s what Newsweek offers.”

In fact, although Jane Harman represents a district that comprises much of Los Angeles, and her husband spends much of his time at their home in Venice, they seem more D.C. than Hollywood. The couple has owned a house in the Cleveland Park neighborhood since the early 1980s. Until recent years, Sidney Harman ran his audio equipment company, Harman International Industries, out of an office on Pennsylvania Avenue and he has donated nearly $20 million to Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company – which named a new hall after him – and serves on its board.

The Harman’s met in Washington during the Carter administration when Jane Harman worked on the White House staff and her husband was undersecretary of Commerce. They were married in 1980.

That connection to the Beltway—not to mention Harman’s stated commitment, during the Newsweek sale process, to keep “quality journalism” at the weekly magazine— made him an attractive buyer to Washington Post Co. chairman Donald Graham, who handpicked him to take over an old family jewel.

“They’re not socialites in the traditional sense of the word. But are they deeply involved in the community? Are they committed to it? Absolutely,” said Debbie Dingell, the wife of Rep. John Dingell and longtime friend of the Harmans.

Sidney Harman, in fact, is such a noted patron of the arts in Washington that a 2008 profile in Washingtonian magazine called him “a modern Medici.”

“It’s hard to think of a couple who have accomplished as much in politics, business, philanthropy, the arts and now media,” said Jeremy Bash, the CIA chief of staff who served as Jane Harman’s chief counsel when she was the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “They are driven by an ideal of public service that perhaps has fallen out of fashion today. But they stubbornly work to keep that ideal alive.”

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