It is 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, and I am exchanging Facebook messages with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema about a lightly used pair of Badgley Mischka heels.
At least, I think it’s Kyrsten Sinema. It’s her name on the Facebook Marketplace listing, and it’s her in the profile photo, grinning at the finish line of a running race. The seller bio says she lives in Phoenix, and our one mutual Facebook friend is a former Democratic National Committee staffer. The shoes—4.5-inch stilettos adorned with rhinestone-studded flower appliqués—look as if they would fit pretty well in Sinema’s wardrobe.
But would a sitting senator respond within seconds on a weekday morning to a message about her used heels? Would it be worth her time to photograph a pair of old shoes, write a sales listing, field inquiries from potential buyers, and arrange pickup logistics—all for just $65?
“They’re beautiful shoes,” the user DMs me as I Venmo the money. “Enjoy them!”
This is far from the only listing of secondhand clothes this user, “Kyrsten Sinema,” has posted.
The user is currently hawking—among other things—a $215 cycling ensemble, a $25 trucker hat, and a $150 stainless steel watch with a silicone strap. Within the past six weeks, she has offloaded a $150 fitness tracker ring, an $80 cycling jersey, and a $500 bicycle travel case. Over the past two years, and across at least five Facebook groups for athletes, she has listed several dozen personal items, including a $100 pair of sunglasses (“Just too big for my tiny head!!”), two $50 puffer jackets, three $75 pairs of high-heeled boots, a $75 cycling bib, a $60 Lululemon raincoat, several mesh tanks at $55 a pop ($20 off the current retail price), and multiple bikinis, priced between $60 and $70, that ranged from “never worn” to “in great condition.”
For the uninitiated: Facebook Marketplace is a virtual yard sale, like Craigslist or the classifieds. Along with other digital clothing reseller platforms like Depop and Poshmark, the platform has made it easy to sell one’s stuff online, allowing a growing number of Americans (including one Arizona senator, perhaps) to earn decent money while freeing up closet space.
But while Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has alienated the vast majority of Arizona Democrats and was polling underwater this fall with quite literally every demographic group in the state, Facebook Sinema remains, on Facebook Marketplace, a “highly rated” seller, with strong customer ratings related to Pricing, Punctuality, and Communication.
In the political realm, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is an enigma, often infuriatingly so. To advocates and colleagues, her decisions and loyalties can seem random. She came up in Arizona politics as a member of the Green Party and as an antiwar activist, only to become one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress and a proponent of ballooning defense budgets. Since she rarely speaks to the press or even the members of her own Senate caucus, we know precious little about what makes her tick. Even before last week, when she announced that she would be leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent, she never attended Democratic Caucus meetings, unlike the other two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Her bizarre fashion sense, which has gotten more outlandish and less coherent over time—candy-colored wigs, a ring that says “Fuck Off”—has further convoluted her public image.
What narrative does she want voters to glean from her political and personal lives? What, if anything, does she value? Why did she do that random winery internship two summers ago? Is there an ideology driving her politics? Does anyone know? Does Sinema?
Just about everyone in U.S. politics has tried and failed to decode her. Could Facebook Marketplace be one key?
At the very least, it provides a wealth of new information about how Sinema—or someone using her name and photo, who shares her exact athletic interests and taste in clothes—spends her time. This year, on March 15, the day Sinema voted to confirm Shalanda Young as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Facebook Sinema posted a $175 winter cycling jacket and two-piece cycling outfit whose pattern, she wrote, evokes “all the Burberry feels.”
On March 28, the day Sinema voted to pass a bill that will provide billions of dollars in U.S. subsidies for semiconductor chip manufacturing, Facebook Sinema posted a listing for a $150 GPS bike computer.
On Nov. 9, the day after the midterm elections, when Sinema wasn’t tweeting about the importance of democratic systems or being dragged by Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego about her failure to help her party keep its majorities in Congress, Facebook Sinema visited multiple Facebook groups to post listings for a brand-new $85 bike saddle and a $215 cycling onesie.
And on Nov. 28, the day the Senate considered amendments and reached a pivotal agreement on the Respect for Marriage Act—a landmark bill to codify federal recognition of same-sex marriages, negotiated in large part by Sinema, who is bisexual—Facebook Sinema listed an $80 cycling jersey in three Facebook groups around 12:30 p.m.
It’s a fascinating contradiction. As a famously mercurial member of a Senate majority without a single vote to spare, for the past two years Sinema has had the power to make or break her former party’s agenda. She has used that power to quash a number of Democratic priorities since Joe Biden took office, including voting rights legislation and raising taxes on corporations and the ultra-wealthy. Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, was more cooperative.
But all the while—if Facebook Sinema is indeed the senator—she has been approaching a separate pursuit with reliability, humility, rigor, and patience. For more than a year now, Facebook Sinema has been trying to offload a high-end Cervélo racing bicycle that, according to one of several posts about the bike, “has been sitting idle since late March 2021 (thanks, covid).” Every few months, she’ll repost the listing in Facebook groups such as “Tri Girls Got Gear,” “Tri ‘n Sell It,” or “SteveBay,” a Phoenix-based page for sales of athletic gear (like eBay, but from a founder named Steve). The bike was first listed at $6,500 in 2021, but Facebook Sinema has since reduced the price to $5,500. Over three days this September—including Sept. 20, the day she hosted a telephone town hall with AARP Arizona—she posted the bike in several Facebook groups, with the offer to “remove Betty Squad decals upon request (though they look pretty badass).” In other words, Facebook Sinema is impressively consistent.
Sen. Sinema’s staff would neither confirm nor deny that the Facebook Marketplace user was her, and they did not respond to fact-checking queries. After I explained in multiple emails that my piece was about someone selling triathlon gear on Facebook Marketplace under the senator’s name and likeness, a spokesperson said she remained “perplexed”: “What is the story you’re working on about?” she asked. “Kyrsten’s athletic hobbies? The fact that many Ironman / triathlete competitors resale gear?”
Athletic pastimes of various kinds have distinguished Sen. Sinema among her peers in Washington from the beginning. In 2013, while serving in the House of Representatives, Sinema became the first sitting member of Congress to finish an Ironman triathlon, and she has since completed others, including Ironman races in New Zealand and France in 2019. (She drew some criticism for missing several Senate votes to join the New Zealand race.) She also runs ultramarathons and regular ones, including the Boston Marathon in 2022.
Photos from some of these athletic events show the senator wearing racing ensembles by one of her favorite brands: Betty Designs, a California-based company that pitches itself with the line “We thrive on sweat + live for fashion.” Sinema has competed alongside members of the “BettySquad”—women dressed in matching outfits from the company—and appears in at least one photo on the brand’s website, which explains that its skull-and-butterfly logo is “built on the concept that women can be both strong + beautiful. #BadassIsBeautiful.”
Facebook Sinema’s Marketplace shop is likewise filled with Betty Designs gear, including a $150 cycling kit emblazoned with the Betty slogan “Do Epic Shit.” Photos of the senator from a 2019 marathon and a race in D.C. show her wearing a pink NASCAR-themed Betty tank top; in October, Facebook Sinema listed it, or an identical garment, for $50, in “used–like new” condition.
Nurturing a side hustle in clothing resale is uncommon among federal elected officials (as far as we know), but it is not prohibited by the relevant portions of the Senate ethics guidelines. There is nothing in the rulebook that would bar a senator from hawking vintage T-shirts on Depop or opening an Etsy store to unload old neckties. Senators must report any outside income they earn, and they cannot make more than a certain amount each year. But selling used items at a loss isn’t income. And in the current congressional year, the limit is $29,895, a threshold that Facebook Sinema’s gross sales figures—at least those that are visible on Facebook—don’t come close to meeting. That would likely be true even if we added the $22,964.93 that Sen. Sinema included on a 2021 financial disclosure form for the salary that she makes as an instructor at Arizona State University.
That’s not to say that Facebook Sinema isn’t making good money from her resale business. Some big-ticket items have sold on Facebook Marketplace, including a $600 treadmill marked down from $1,000 and a $3,500 road-bike frame.
But Facebook Sinema also trades in inexpensive stuff, the kind of random items that might sit in another triathlete’s basement for years because it’s not worth the time it would take to get rid of them. She is selling a water bottle—“used once (at the 2022 Boston Marathon!)”—for $20, about half the retail price. Facebook Sinema also once listed a used neon-yellow “Do Epic Shit” hat for $30, plus $7 for shipping. A brand new “Do Epic Shit” hat from Betty Designs currently costs $29.99.
I wondered: Did someone overpay for a secondhand trucker hat because it was seemingly worn and sold by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema? Is Facebook Sinema using the prestige of a senator’s name and likeness to pad the markups on her used athletic gear? Maybe for the hats, but most of the other products seem reasonably priced. (If paying a cent over retail price to potentially wear a senator’s hat sounds like a deal to you, you can still cop a Betty hat from this account, although the one available features the word SQUAD with a skull in place of the “U”—I can think of a few congresswomen who might be interested!)
What else can we infer about Facebook Sinema? Only an extraordinarily frugal consumer would spend any fraction of her day selling and shipping a $20 water bottle if she earned about $200,000 a year, as Sen. Sinema does. Her wares for sale also indicate an orientation toward pragmatism over sentimentality: Facebook Sinema would rather have $50 than the shirt she was wearing when she qualified for the Boston Marathon. The fact that some items have been listed for months without a price reduction suggests that Facebook Sinema is dogged, willing to wait for what she believes she deserves. And also that she does not lack storage space.
Oh, and wherever Facebook Sinema takes the photos of her products—her home, maybe?—we know, based on a listing of a set of bicycle wheels, that it contains a throw pillow, trimmed with pompoms, that says “hope” in an Etsy bridesmaid font.
A nubby gray couch cushion provided the photo backdrop for the Badgley Mischka heels I purchased from Facebook Sinema. The shoes didn’t exactly suit my taste: They were too gaudy, too worst-of-the-2000s, and two sizes too large for my feet. (It seems they never fit Facebook Sinema properly either: “Worn once out of the store, but too big for me,” the listing read.)
I had no plans to wear them, though. My interest in this particular pair of heels rested entirely on my disbelief in the idea that less than a month before the midterm elections that would determine the future prospects of her then party, one of the most influential politicians of the Biden era was spending her days on Facebook Marketplace, negotiating with a buyer about how to hand off a pair of strappy heels that zip up the back. Could it really be her?
Facebook Sinema informed me on Oct. 17—the day Sen. Sinema convened her Water Advisory Council to discuss conserving Colorado River water—that she would be away from her apartment in D.C. for a bit but “could have a friend put them at the front desk” for me to pick up. My hopes of a direct encounter were dashed. The seller sent me the address of a luxury apartment building in a neighborhood full of luxury apartment buildings, near the Nationals baseball stadium, and told me I should be able to retrieve the heels the next day.
“I’m asking my friend what time he can grab them and put them at the front desk for you tmrw,” Facebook Sinema wrote me. “Hold pls!”
Occasionally, members of the Facebook groups where Facebook Sinema posts her items will recognize the famous name. “Not every day that you get the opportunity to buy a [time-trial] rig from a U.S. Senator,” one user wrote in a comment on the Cervélo listing this summer. Another user criticized the listing for lacking a “solid description” of the bike and pointed out that Facebook Sinema had accidentally written the price in British pounds instead of dollars. But, the commenter concluded, “still cool provenance with her owning it.”
Other members have sent well wishes in their comments. “I didn’t vote for you but wanted to thank you for watching out for arizona. We need more folks like you,” wrote one user, offering to hook Facebook Sinema up with a women’s mountain biking group and a “lady coach” if she ever wanted to try “a little more agressive dirt riding.”
On the listing for a racing bike, another admirer worried that Facebook Sinema might be hanging up her helmet: “You are not done competing are you?? I mean, keep kicking ass in Washington first, then race, right?”
“Never done competing!” she assured him. “I just have a thing for new bikes.”
The morning I was to pick up my heels, Facebook Sinema changed the plan: same neighborhood, different address. “Christina, the heels are ready for pickup!” she wrote, and I wondered for the first time if she had thought to Google my name. I’ve written several critical pieces about Sen. Sinema’s fashion and politics, so part of me was grateful that I wasn’t A-list enough to rouse Facebook Sinema’s suspicions. (Rebecca Traister could never!) The other part of me was deeply offended and ready to drown my sorrows in a like-new pair of stilettos.
I walked into the lobby of the building and told the receptionist I was there to pick up a package for Christina.
“Pair of shoes?” she asked. “Yep!” I said.
She ducked into a room behind the front desk and returned with a shoebox. Two Post-it notes on the lid read “Christina C.”
“The gentleman showed them to us,” the receptionist said as she handed me the box. “They’re really nice!”
I carried the package outside, sat down on a bench, and opened the lid to find the shoes neatly tucked inside their original dust bag. I removed them, one by one, and admired them in the autumn sunlight. As promised in the listing, the heels were in perfect condition.