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.