When Teresa Heinz Kerry speaks, there's often a glint of mirth in
her eyes, as if she were aware that she doesn't fit the classic
template for American political wives.
Oh, she understands the game. But in this era of slick political
image-making and carefully planned spin, she just rolls her eyes and
refuses to play. Her easy self-confidence and exotic looks - not to
mention her Portuguese lilt - make Ms. Heinz Kerry seem more a
character from a European novel than a future first lady. And her
startlingly straight answers to questions most would evade are
enough to make any campaign handler squirm.
Botox injections? Of course. Actually, she says she may need
another soon. A pre-nup with John Kerry to protect her $500 million-
plus fortune? Absolutely, a must. Her husband's running mate? "I
have to say that John Edwards is very beautiful," she says.
So Tuesday night, when Heinz Kerry takes the podium at the
Democratic National Convention in Boston, many people across the
nation will catch their first glimpse of one of the most unusual
would-be first ladies in the nation's history. Born in Africa,
fluent in five languages, her unruly hair a copper color more common
with women half her age, she strikes a figure rarely seen in US
politics. "She is absolutely her own woman," said Kerry campaign
manager Mary Beth Cahill at a Monitor breakfast with reporters.
That's both good news and bad news for political staffers. Asked
if the campaign is trying to control what their candidate's wife
says, Ms. Cahill offered an indirect answer. "There are those things
you can do, and those you can't," she said.
Today some see Heinz Kerry's sometimes blunt candor as a
refreshing departure from scripted talking points. Others worry that
during a time of such rancorous political divisions, such
independence could only inflame the raging culture wars.
"She is definitely a change," says Myra Gutin, a professor at
Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., and author of "The
President's Partner: The First Lady in the 20th Century." "She would
be only the second foreign-born first lady we'd have. She's been
very candid - some might say unguarded.... Even in her most flip
moments, Hillary Clinton was never like this."
Take her name. She freely admits that her legal name is, and will
remain, Teresa Heinz. The addition of "Kerry," she says, was simply
a nod to the needs of the campaign. "Now, politically, it's going to
be Teresa Heinz Kerry," she once told a woman's magazine. "But I
don't give a [expletive], you know? There are other things to worry
She is far from a demure spouse. Instead of gazing lovingly at
her husband while he's speaking, she can fidget and even frown. In
one of their first interviews, before Senator Kerry had announced
his presidential bid, she flew into a rage in front of the reporter,
prompting a less-than-flattering story of the couple. …