John Kerry's Secret Ingredient: Rich, Smart and Candid, Teresa Heinz Kerry Has Thawed John Kerry and Is Spicing Up the 2004 Race. A Portrait of a Marriage

By Henneberger, Melinda | Newsweek, June 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

John Kerry's Secret Ingredient: Rich, Smart and Candid, Teresa Heinz Kerry Has Thawed John Kerry and Is Spicing Up the 2004 Race. A Portrait of a Marriage


Henneberger, Melinda, Newsweek


Byline: Melinda Henneberger

Teresa Heinz Kerry emerges from her Boston town house in a black workout leotard and dark glasses (though the morning is overcast), nibbling a handful of granola en route to her Pilates class. For a minute, she stops to chat with the young man who will be driving her husband, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, around that day. And, leaning up against the campaign van, she asks him to make sure the senator actually eats the healthful lunch their maid has prepared for him and packed in a Whole Foods bag. "So what are you going to do today, Mrs. Heinz?'' the driver says in response, perhaps aware that it won't be long before her husband is baying for preservatives, and on the lookout for the nearest 7-Eleven. "Oh, I'll probably cry all day''--pause, 2, 3--"because my--husband isn't around,'' she says wryly, a la Miss Scarlett declaring she will weep into her pillow every night Charles Hamilton is off fighting the Yankees. "No, I think I'll catch up with myself today,'' she says, pulling a handful of auburn curls up off her face, "which you never get to do in this business.''

Her refusal to so much as try and play the Laura Bush role of the smart but subdued, more conventional political spouse goes beyond anything Hillary Clinton ever attempted at the height of her "I could have stayed home and baked cookies!'' insurgency. So far beyond, in fact, that some of Kerry's friends are nervous. Other high-powered women are aspiring First Ladies, too, of course, including former Vermont governor Howard Dean's wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, a doctor who doesn't do campaign events. But it's Teresa Heinz Kerry--wealthy "venture philanthropist,'' multilingual former U.N. interpreter and longtime stay-at-home mom, until her three sons were grown--who makes Hillary look downright retiring.

At 64, Mrs. Heinz Kerry is unfiltered, unapologetic and unself-consciously sexy, in a barely made-up, "who cares if I wore this same suit yesterday" kind of way. Her Republican roots often show--she only recently registered as a Democrat--and in many ways, she is the anti-Hillary, reliably revealing more about herself and her husband in five minutes of conversation than Senator Clinton does in the 528 pages of her "Living History.'' But it's not yet clear whether Mrs. Heinz Kerry's authenticity, the kind voters claim to like, will damage her husband or cast him, appealingly, as man enough to prefer a powerhouse.

Kerry, who's 59, says his mate's "sassy'' attitude is one of the things that first attracted him to her. "And no one's about to'' ask her to change now, he promises. For the most part, rather than trying to rein in his freewheeling wife, Kerry seems to be trying to emulate her, speaking much more directly in this campaign, PG curse words and all, than in his pre-Teresa (tehr-AY-zuh) days. Whether the Kerrys make it to the White House, they're already testing the ever-shifting boundaries of the ultimate supporting role in a presidential campaign.

At political events, Mrs. Heinz Kerry seems to enjoy dispensing tips on subjects ranging from which sunscreens contain carcinogens to the immunity-boosting antioxidants in green tea--a sort of Heloise meets Sophia Loren who tells women: "We've got to take care of our men,'' and takes her role as helpmate seriously. When Kerry came home from his most recent yearly checkup crowing about his low cholesterol, she asked to look at his PSA levels, noticed that they were in the normal range but up from last time, and sent him back for more tests. Turns out he had prostate cancer, caught early. "They call her Doctor T,'' the senator says proudly. Whenever he's ailing, "I call her from the road and she says, 'Take this.' She knows more than some doctors.''

Yet when Kerry is giving his standard campaign speech, his wife sometimes eats, reads her program or talks while he's talking, having heard it all before. After one recent joint appearance--OK, a luncheon at the Yale Club in New York, which may or may not be representative--several women in the crowd remarked on what a relief it was to meet a candidate's wife who didn't behave as though she were so besotted with her husband that she couldn't possibly stop grinning, or ever get enough of his speech. …

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