Re: Who Are You?

Growing up Jewish in a non-too-friendly Baltimore.

  • Transcript


Question: Who are you?

Transcript:David Rubenstein. Co-founder and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group.

Question: Where are you from?

Transcript:Originally from Baltimore, Maryland.Baltimore was not actually that diverse a community, at least the part that I grew up in. Baltimore had in its mortgages provisions that forbade the sellers of homes who had those mortgages to sell to people who were Jewish or who were Black. And as a result the Jews or the Blacks in Baltimore were constrained in where they could live. In the Jewish community in particular, they were only allowed to live in really the Northwest part of Baltimore. So I grew up in kind of the Jewish ghetto in Northwest Baltimore. And until I was about 13, I didn’t realize that everybody in the United States wasn’t Jewish. Everybody I knew was Jewish. Later in life I realized not that many people are Jewish in terms of percentages. But it was a very cloistered environment in many ways; a very ghettoized Jewish community. It was in a reasonably wealthy community in some parts, but a blue collar community in other parts. Everybody in the Jewish community was not equally wealthy. There were some, like my parents, who were blue collar workers. I think the Jewish community in Baltimore was interesting in striving to make a better life for itself and for the children that it was producing. It was a family oriented community, and Baltimore is a very family oriented town. At the time when I was growing up, Baltimore was the eighth largest city in the United States. It had a population of almost a million. It’s now gone down considerably, but it was a vibrant city then. It was known for its athletic prowess in many sports. It was also known for being an industrial town and for having many other major businesses based there. Since then much of the business has basically moved away unfortunately, and the city has had a number of problems.I don’t believe anybody really knows at six, eight, 10, 15 years old what they’re really going to do. And I think if you do know at that age, it’s very, very unusual. And it’s very unusual if you think you’re gonna do something and you actually wind up doing it at 20, or 30, or 40, or 50. In my case I think as a young man, I recognized that I didn’t come from wealth. Neither of my parents were college educated or high school educated, and I was an only child. And therefore I recognized that if I was going to make my way in the world, I would have to do it probably on my academic achievements and my abilities intellectually because I wasn’t a great athlete. I wasn’t particularly personable. I wasn’t handsome. I wasn’t gonna be an actor. I wasn’t gonna be a politician. And as a result I tried to work very hard in school and get the best grades I could. I recognized that to get college and graduate school training, I would need to have scholarships because my parents really couldn’t afford to send me to the best schools. And so I tried very hard to do well in school, and that’s really . . . probably was the focus of my early years – to do well academically and try to not only please my parents, but put myself in the position where I could win some scholarships. As a young man, I thought that I was interested in politics and government. But because I wasn’t wealthy, I wasn’t particularly charming, I wasn’t handsome, I didn’t think I’d have the personality to be a candidate, I thought I’d be an advisor to somebody who was a candidate or an official. But I thought the path to that was through the law. So I went to law school, practiced law briefly in New York for a large firm. And at that firm I worked for Ted Sorenson who had been John Kennedy’s top advisor. And he helped me get a job with someone who was running for President of the United States, and I thought maybe I would wind up in the White House as Ted Sorenson did. Unfortunately that person was Birch Bayh, and he ran in 1976 but didn’t get anywhere. And as I was sitting in my office on Capitol Hill – Chief Counsel to one of his committees – I got a call from somebody saying would I like to work for somebody else who was running for president, and I said, well, I would take another chance. And that person was Jimmy Carter. I went to work for him in Atlanta. A few months later he was elected President of the United States – not because of anything I did. He was 33 points ahead in the polls when I joined him; but he only won by one point, so people wondered what my contribution really was. Nonetheless he didn’t have a lot of other people he was gonna give White House jobs to other than those who worked in the campaign. So at 27 years old, three years out of law school, I became the Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the President of the United States – a job I was not particularly qualified for. But I got an office in the west wing. I was very shortly going on Air Force One and Marine One; going to Camp David advising the President of the United States. It was obviously a very heady experience, so I thought I had fulfilled my goal to be a government official and a White House advisor. Unfortunately in 1980 we lost the reelection and I had to go back and practice law, and I viewed it as a very much of a depressing situation; but I had to recognize that life takes those kinds of turns.

Recorded on: 9/13/07