Carol Felsenthal
On politics

What You Need to Know About the Guy Who Owns the Obamas’ Vineyard Rental

A look back at an interview with David Schulte, an Obama supporter and investment banker with Chicago ties.

Photo: Courtesy Chilmark Partners

Until Sunday, the Obamas are staying in the oceanfront Martha’s Vineyard home of Obama friend and financial supporter, David Michael Schulte.

Schulte? Who?

A New Yorker by birth, the 66-year-old founder (in 1984) and managing partner of Chilmark Partners—offices in the Hancock Building—is a graduate of Williams College and Yale Law School, where he befriended Hillary and Bill (more on the Clinton/Shulte tie below). Schulte was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart—just the kind of credentials you’d expect of a Martha’s Vineyard summer resident.

If you watched President Obama’s pre-golf-game, seven-minute address yesterday on the shocking and ongoing violence in Egypt, he was standing in front of Schulte’s Chilmark home. (Schulte named his company after the town, which is reportedly the richest town on the island.)

Schulte’s Who’s Who entry describes his work as “investment banker.” Other phrases used to describe him professionally are “private equity investor” or “corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions expert.” (Snarky, right-wing commentators—Michelle Malkin, for example—prefer the phrase “vulture capitalism” to describe Schulte. In her words, he’s a specialist in turning around companies burdened by debt, or, precisely the kind of work that Democrats used to pillory Mitt Romney as an elitist one-percenter.) Before founding his firm, Schulte was a senior vice president at Salomon Brothers, credited with creating and directing its Corporate Reorganization Group.

Gathered from scores of news sources, here are the particulars on Schulte’s gray-shingled home (sufficiently grand to warrant a name; the Chilmark House) which sits on the western tip and south shore of the island.

  • Estimated value is $7.6 million.
  • Size is 5,000 square feet on nine and one half acres on Snail Road, off South Road.
  • It has four bedrooms—the master suite has a den, deck, an outdoor shower, his-and-her bathrooms—plus two bedrooms in a guest house, a gym, screened-in dining porch overlooking an infinity pool, basketball and tennis courts.
  • Floor–to-ceiling windows offer a view of Chilmark Pond and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
  • it was built in 1961; Schulte bought it in 2000 for approximately $3 million.
  • According to Bloomberg News, the architect for the home’s 2006 renovation is Schulte friend Rick Sundberg of Seattle-based Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects.

This is the Obamas’ first stay there; they are reported personally to be paying the rent for the eight-day retreat, although the cost of security and Secret Service lodging (75 hotel rooms), Air Force One, Marine One, Osprey MV-22 helicopters—one of which airlifted the family’s dog, Bo—17-vehicle motorcades of armored limos, surely dwarfs the rental fee.

In past years—this is Obama’s fourth summer vacation as president on the Island—the family stayed at the Blue Heron Farm, an even grander Chilmark home (on 28 acres) which has since been sold (for $22.4 million) to British architect Lord Norman Foster. Among the celebrities who summer on the Island are Larry David, Kenneth Cole, James Taylor, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Michael J. Fox, Carly Simon, and Vernon Jordan (the latter five have homes in Chilmark.)

Chicagoans will enjoy knowing that Obama’s golf shoes carry the White Sox logo.

I interviewed the home’s owner, David Schulte, in December 2006 when I was writing my book on Bill Clinton. Schulte, who spent a year at Oxford with Bill, knew both Clintons at Yale, but was a classmate of Hillary’s.

During that interview, Schulte told me that he would not be supporting Hillary for president in 2008. When I asked him whom he planned to support, he answered, “Obama.” He contributed money to Obama’s U.S senate race in ’04 and to Obama’s primary race against Hillary Clinton. Schulte opened his checkbook again in 2012 contributing both to Obama’s reelection ($2,000) and, through his business, to Obama’s inauguration ($50,000).

Over the years, Schulte has also raised plenty of money for Bill Clinton, starting every time Bill ran for governor of Arkansas. Schulte attended a fundraiser for candidate Bill in Chicago in 1992 when Chicagoans responded blankly to his name. At that fundraiser, Schulte met and became close to Lew Manilow, a prominent art collector and Democratic donor who called Schulte before the 2004 U.S. Senate primary, and told him he must meet the “very special” state senator. Obama stopped by Schulte’s office, they discussed the fact that Schulte was editor in chief of of the Yale Law Journal and that Obama was the equivalent at Harvard. “I said I’m really glad to meet you, but I’m not going to support you. For one thing, you went to the wrong school. … And [Obama] listened. Then he started talking and in 20 minutes he had me eating out of the palm of his hand. … The next day I was writing a $2,000 check …And after that he asked me to be on his finance committee.”

I asked Schulte why he would dump his old friend Hillary for Obama.

“In the summer of 2000, I brought eleven people to a Hillary for Senate fundraiser on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “I’m not an anti-Hillary person. I’m an anti-Hillary for president person.”

He recalls that when he first met Hillary, in the fall of 1969, “She had straight shoulder length hair, parted in the middle of her head. And she wore granny glasses with rose-colored lenses … I think that was actually a fairly good symbol. I think that Hillary is the sort of person who thinks that she’s going to figure it out, and I think what she thinks is that if you just give her your vote and give her the power she’s going to make it be okay. And I think there’s a cockiness in that that came through in her health care assignment which I do not think was aberrational. I think that was vintage Hillary.”

Schulte added that Bill “genuinely respects” Hillary. “I think he believes that she is way smarter than he is … and I think he’s quite right about that … We’ve had people in the White House who were not that brilliant. I’m not sure that Eisenhower as president was that brilliant or Reagan was that brilliant or that Jerry Ford was that brilliant, but some of them have been very successful as president because the job of the presidency isn’t to be the most brilliant; it’s to be the most effective … Reagan was a superb president … [because] he stood for something and it was neat and it was clear and it was simple.”

When I asked Schulte, back then, what Bill’s role would be in a Hillary White House—remember in 2006 she was the “inevitable” nominee—he responded “I can’t wrap my mind around that … Can you imagine the challenge of creating an entrance into the White House so he could sneak in without being noticed?”

Schulte told me that he played golf with Clinton twice while he was president, at least once on the Vineyard, attended the second Clinton inauguration and the White House Christmas party in 2000. “There was a sense of it being The Last Picture Show,” he said.

Good thing the Clintons are vacationing this year in the Hamptons. They have also been regulars on the Vineyard (except, like Obama, during reelection summers). A cocktail party or golf course meeting could have proved awkward.

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