News Flash: Kerry is Rich

Wealth of Others Helped to Shape Kerry’s Life [RSS] (NYT)

If Mr. Kerry is elected, he and his wife will be the richest couple ever to live in the White House, said Kevin Phillips, a political commentator and the author of “Wealth and Democracy.” Even adjusting for inflation, their net worth far surpasses that of such wealthy predecessors as John F. Kennedy and his wife. In an election driven in large part by the candidates’ personalities, that extraordinary wealth and the air of privilege Mr. Kerry seems to carry with him have often been a stumbling block, exacerbating the perception that he is an aloof man whose elite tastes separate him from the concerns of ordinary people.

Mr. Kerry’s friends and advisers say the patrician label is unfair. Unlike President Bush, he did not grow up rich, and his parents relied on relatives to pay for his education at private boarding school. In college, he worked for two summers loading trucks at a Massachusetts warehouse to earn pocket money. Even as a first-term senator, he was sometimes so short of cash that he slept on friends’ couches during weekends in Boston. And before marrying Teresa Heinz in 1995, he told a close friend that her enormous wealth made him uncomfortable. But Mr. Kerry’s elitist reputation goes deeper than his wife’s fortune, now estimated at $1 billion. Mr. Bush, despite his own family’s legacy of wealth and political power, manages to come off as a simple-hearted Texan who likes to clear brush and go bass fishing in his spare time, a man whose indulgences are barbecue and nonalcoholic beer. Mr. Kerry, by contrast, exudes a Brahmin reserve. His accent is no longer the upper-class drawl of his youth, but his soft vowels and formal diction still hint at a privileged lineage. On the campaign trail, he sometimes calls people “man,” a habit that may grow from his 1960’s youth but now sounds like a strained effort to connect with ordinary folk.

While I’m no fan of Kerry and find something rather odd about his personality, this particular charge has always struck me as unfair. The man has a lot of money and he married into a huge amount of it. It’s unclear to me why that’s disqualifying. The article is, though, a rather fascinating glimpse into a strange parallel universe that a wealthy few inhabit.

Unlike Mr. Bush, whose family had similar New England roots, Mr. Kerry was drawn to the elite world he glimpsed as a young man, friends say, perhaps because his lack of family money made him something of an outsider. Relatives helped pay for his education at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. Later, at Yale, he formed a bond with the college president, Kingman Brewster, another scion of an old New England family and the embodiment of what used to be called the liberal establishment. “John’s drive to succeed came from being surrounded by people who had it all,” said George Butler, who has known Mr. Kerry since 1964 and recently released a documentary film about him.

After college, Mr. Kerry continued to orbit a world of unusual privilege, thanks in part to his first wife, Julia Thorne, who came from a very wealthy family with Colonial origins. When the couple divorced in 1988, Mr. Kerry went through some lean years, relying on his government salary as he shuttled back and forth from Washington to Boston, where he was busy helping to raise two young daughters. This was the time later dubbed his “gypsy period” by his second wife – when he sometimes lacked a place to live in one city or another, and had to rely on friends or supporters for help. But all that came to a decisive end in May 1995, when he married Teresa Heinz. About 100 close friends and relatives attended the ceremony, which took place during a chilly spring afternoon on the lawn outside her Nantucket home. Afterward, the wedding party took over a highly regarded island restaurant, the Chanticleer Inn, where every place setting was decorated with a tiny bottle of Heinz ketchup. At one point, the bride’s son, Chris Heinz, teasingly daubed Mr. Kerry on the forehead with ketchup, to welcome him into the family and its tomato-based fortune, recalled Mr. Sanders, one of the guests. Later, the guests danced to a band called – inauspiciously, perhaps – the French Millionaires.

Mr. Kerry’s life changed at that point, and not just because the marriage made him happier. The couple bought and renovated a five-story 18th-century town house on Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill, giving the senator a permanent home in his home state at last. He also gained a Washington home, Ms. Heinz Kerry’s 23-room town house in Georgetown, and the two vacation homes in Idaho and Nantucket. Seen from the outside, those houses are not especially ostentatious. The Sun Valley house, for instance, at the end of a 100-yard driveway about a mile north of town, is smaller than many of its neighbors, and rendered invisible from the road by landscaping. The Nantucket house is set on a small lot, with a screened-in porch, and a green and white loveseat swing on the front lawn. It is the neighbors who are unusual. In Idaho, the billionaire financier George Soros lives next door. Just across the river is Steve Wynn, the billionaire Las Vegas casino executive; also nearby are the actor Tom Hanks and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. The Nantucket house is on Brant Point, an area so sought after that a vacant lot there sold last year for $8 million after the house on it burned down, said Dalton Frazier, an island real estate agent.


Another area where Ms. Heinz Kerry’s wealth has left a visible imprint is sports. Mr. Kerry had always been an outdoorsman and a superb athlete who went skiing, biking and boating whenever he could. “Now he carries those on in more places,” Cameron Kerry said. The senator owns two bicycles made by Serotta, including an Otrott model, which usually sells for about $8,000. In summer, he goes windsurfing and kite-boarding off the coast of Nantucket. He has had a number of boats over the years, but about three years ago he bought a more opulent one: a 42-foot Little Harbor powerboat, purchased for about $500,000. The boat has sleeping berths for two, and Mr. Kerry mostly uses it to cruise along the Massachusetts coast, or to ride with friends out to Nantucket.

Must be nice.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Democracy, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anjin-San says:

    Now Kerry is “too rich”? LOL, guess Bush is “just rich enough”. Sadly, there are very few elected officials in DC who are not multi-millionaires. Can they relate to the guy who makes 55k and is trying to remodel his house and figure out how to send his smart kid to a good school? I doubt it.

    Did anyone catch Liz Cheney after the VP debate talking about how Edwards had “made millions” as a lawyer? Something wrong with that? Pretty safe bet that Dick Cheney made more the year before he became VP then Edwards made in his entire career.

    I note that Outside the Beltway is very fair in its commentary on the story, as usaual. Maybe when the Bush era is over we can get away from the devisiveness that the “uniter” has brought to our country. I sure miss Reagan. GW Bush is not fit to shine his shoes.

  2. McGehee says:

    At least Bush pays taxes like a rich man. Kerry’s effective tax rate is a mere 12.6%.

  3. Anjin-San says:


    We await documentation. The Bush campaign is well know for its slime jobs that have no basis in fact.

  4. McGehee says:

    Don’t forget to stick your fingers in your ears and yell “Lalalalalala! I can’t hear you!”

  5. Anjin-San says:


    In other words, your claim about Kerry is crap you can’t back up. Wow. What a suprise.

    Bush can’t run on his record, which is basically one long train wreck. So you slime his opponent. Well it has worked for Bush in the past.

  6. Jim says:

    The amazing thing to me is that Kerry would want to be President. Lets face it: the Secret Service would take a pretty dim view of any President speeding around Nantucket on a speedboat or going windsurfing or kiteboarding.

  7. JC says:

    It is not about the money. It is about the hypocrisy. J.F’ing Kerry is a poser, he is like those guys that buy flight suits and navy wings at the army navy surplus store and hang around the bars near the air bases to pick up women. He chose Swift boats to pad his resume (PT109?) and bails on his crew when he fills his get out of ‘nam free card. He comes back to the US only to discover that the war hero image is now gauche, so he becomes the peacenik in chief. When 9-11 came along and it was now cool to be a war hero, he went back to that army navy surplus store to get his medals/ribbons he tossed over the wall so he could prove he had the right stuff. When it looked like Dean was going to kick his butt, he became the anti war candidate (again?). He claims W cannot form coalitions like his father did in Gulf War I yet voted against it. He howls with righteous indignation about outsourcing American jobs, but shelters his assets overseas. (see: Boston Globe article today showing paperwork for Intermont Holdings Inc) He is Irish on St Patrick’s Day, and Catholic when it gets votes, when in fact his is not Irish by ancestry, nor Catholic by his actions. As screwed up as Americans can be, there is at a minimum an inherent distrust of a faker.

  8. JC says:

    Hey Anjin-San, see below from Wall Street Jornal:

    Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, writes in the WALL STREET JOURNAL on Monday: “According to the Kerrys’ own tax records, and they have not released all of them, the couple had a combined income of $6.8 million in income last year and paid $725,000 in income taxes. That means their effective tax rate was a whopping 12.8%…. “Under the current tax system the middle class pays far more than the Kerry tax rate. In fact, the average federal tax rate — combined payroll and income tax — for a middle-class family is closer to 20% or more. George W. and Laura Bush, who had an income one- tenth of the Kerrys’, paid a tax rate of 30%. …

    “Here is the man who finds clever ways to reduce his own tax liability while voting for higher taxes on the middle class dozens of times in his Senate career. He even voted against the Bush tax cut that saves each middle-class family about $1,000.” The Kerrys “have unwittingly made the case for what George W. Bush says he wants to do: radically simplify and flatten out the tax code. … So before John Kerry is given the opportunity to raise taxes again on American workers, shouldn’t he and Teresa at least pay their fair share?”

  9. Anjin-San says:

    JC… Not sure what you are upset about, tax breaks for billionaires has been the focal point of the Bush presidency, obviously Bush has served his self-delared base well. Thank you for providing documentation, it does lend credibility to an arguement.

    As for Kerry being a “poser”… Kerry went to ‘Nam when he did not have to. He was wounded in service of his country. He killed a man in combat. Bush & Cheney avoided combat. Bush dressed up in a flight suit and pranced around with REAL servicemen under a “mission accomplished” banner. How many KIA since “mission accomplished”?

    Kerry has a real uniform from real service and is has his real blood on it. You seen any combat JC?

  10. McGehee says:

    Anjin, you were much more entertaining when you were yelling “Lalalalalala! I can’t hear you!”

    Not even so much as an acknowledgment from you that your knee-jerk rejection of a fact that has been featured widely in the news, was (to borrow from you) utter crap.

    That’s why I didn’t bother with your demand for cites — your disdain for politically inconvenient facts has been noted previously.

  11. Anjin-San says:

    Actually McGehee, I have had a relative in the hospital & had little time for the news this week. Requesting documentation of claims is prettys standard, all you can furnish is snide remarks…

    It is pretty easy to see why you want to make something like Kerry’s taxes the record, given Bush’s dismal record as president, I mean where should I start?

    Record high oil prices? No WMD? No Bin Laden? No Mullah Omar? Martha Stewart in prision, Ken Lay in his mansion?
    Record surplus to record deficit? First net job loss since Hoover?
    Health insurance costs surging, while millions become uninsured enitrely? Historic mistake in attacking Iraq, nearly 1100 brave servicemen dead, billions upon billions wasted while we close firehouses, lay off cops and cancel school sports programs?

    Hell I am just getting warmed up…

  12. JC says:


    W spent more time on active duty training in F102’s than Kerry did in USN. Mortality rate for F102 pilots was higher than Swift boat CO’s
    Kerry by his own admission went into Swifts because they were not as dangerous. As to the blood on his uniform, I doubt it. Not one stitch and 1/2 day off the line. I completely discount Kerry’s war hero status. He managed to spoof the system to his own advantage. As to my service in the US Army, I did not fire any shots in anger my, units never engaged in combat action. However I have served with/for combat veterans from Vietnam, I have seen real heroes up close. 3 with Bronze Stars 2 Silver Stars 1 DFC, none of them used their records to promote their self-interest.

    Shooting a fleeing unarmed man in the back in combat is not much to brag about or reenact with his super 8. Either is killing a man and his 2 year old son by mistake anything to post on your web cite.

    Tax cuts for billionaires, yes how many welfare recipients have given you a job? (The real kind, of “job” the Clinton/Lewinsky kind) Like Kerry you heard the question but avoided the answer. The point of the WSJ article was that Kerry, and My pretty Pony (Edwards), complain about loopholes for the rich while jumping through them.