Heinz Kerry just quieter, not silent
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Tom Gannam, Associated Press
Teresa Heinz Kerry has stayed out of the headlines, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have something to say
She is no longer the outspoken, freewheeling quote-machine of the early 2004 presidential campaign, the woman beside Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry who intrigued voters and frazzled political handlers with her tendency to say exactly what she thought on everything from health care policy to botox, from pre-nups to Rick Santorum.
These days, Teresa Heinz Kerry seems more guarded around the news media. Since her husband's defeat, she's lowered her profile, tending to her various philanthropies and, perhaps, nursing some wounds -- not just from the election but from some snarky portrayals of her in the press.
Teresa Heinz, in a phone interview from her Sun Valley, Idaho home, answers questions about the environment, the election, her husband and her philanthropy's plans to help Pittsburgh.
About her husband's comments that environmental issues didn't stir voters during the 2004 campaign.
Whether individual efforts in the U.S. on global warming will make any differenceat all if China, India and other industrialized countries don't step up to the plate and do their part.
The reorganization of the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment into one entity, the Heinz Endowments.
Her reaction to a decision by her husband, Sen. John Kerry, not to run for president in 2008.
How she coped with Sen. Kerry's defeat in the 2004 presidential race
But get Mrs. Heinz Kerry started on the new book about the environment she co-wrote with her husband, or the free conference on women's health and the environment she's hosting Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, and she is soon in full roar, albeit in a soft, accented voice. She moves effortlessly from one subject to the other, from the risks of pthalates in nail polish -- "not all nail polish, but some" -- to the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere and how much time we have left "before everything goes to hell."
Some rich people collect art or sports cars, and Mrs. Heinz Kerry certainly has her share of country houses and Chanel couture. But, as heir to the ketchup fortune of her late husband, Sen. John Heinz, and chair of the $1.3 billion Heinz Endowments, she seems most to relish her role as a kind of connoisseur of brain power, raving about the smart people she's lured to the conference or to her foundation the way some collectors gush about their latest Lamborghini.
Dr. Christine Gabriel, hired from Carnegie Mellon University by the Heinz Endowments last year, is fiercely described as a "brilliant engineer," while one of the conference's speakers, John Peterson Myers, is "amazing." A reporter is repeatedly urged to read his book, "Our Stolen Future," about how chemical contaminants interfere with hormones in humans and wildlife. Devra Davis, director of the groundbreaking Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, is doing a "tremendous job... very important stuff."
At the same time, Mrs. Heinz Kerry seems to know what will catch and hold an audience: Fran Drescher, a cancer survivor and nasal-voiced star of the long-running TV show "The Nanny," will also be speaking about her best-selling book, "Cancer Schmancer." Ms. Drescher carries a lot of credibility with women, Mrs. Heinz Kerry believes, with her compelling story about navigating the health care system and a strong message about prevention.
Cosmetics, too, will be a focus: Jane Houlihan, from the Environmental Working Group, will talk about her organization's Web site, ewg.org, which tells consumers which cosmetics to choose and which to avoid. A recent study by the group showed that children's shampoos contained higher than government-recommended amounts of the cancer-causing agent para-dioxane.
"These are the needless and horrific things we are doing to ourselves," said Mrs. Heinz Kerry, who noted the relatively thin body of research that exists on the environmental causes of cancer, and the medical establishment's tendency to stress treatment over prevention.
"We do this to ourselves, nobody's doing it to us. We've got to change direction and change attitudes. There are chemicals, there are products that we spray in a room, products we put on our bodies, things that we eat, things we take or things we drink, like water. It's the whole realm of what touches our skin, which is our largest organ, after all."
It's a subject also mapped out in some detail in the book Mrs. Heinz Kerry co-wrote with her husband, "This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future." The book profiles individuals who tackle pollution, global warming and other environmental threats through grass-roots action, and it's won praise even from conservative and former global warming skeptic Newt Gingrich.
The ensuing 10-city book tour has meant joint appearances for the Kerrys all over the country and on television, "a bit like campaigning," Mrs. Heinz Kerry says, but with a difference: This time she gets to talk about what she wants to talk about, rather than her hair or her houses or her blunt-speaking personality.
Still, some conservatives have once again criticized the Kerrys, as they did in 2004, for living a lavish lifestyle while preaching conservation -- even though she and her husband have since exchanged gas-guzzling SUVs for hybrids and purchase carbon credits for their flying time.
But when a recent column by Washington pundit Charles Krauthammer comes up, excoriating former Vice-President Al Gore for flying around the country promoting "An Inconvenient Truth," Mrs. Kerry can scarcely contain her irritation.
"What would Krauthammer do? How would [Mr. Gore] get there? Talk to some angel that would carry him on the wings? The message and the messenger right now are very important in that case, and the only way you're going to get it across is if you talk about it. These people want to have their cake and eat it..."
And then she stops for a bit to collect herself.
"What should you do when you have that knowledge? Sit? Or should you go out and try to tell people about it? Does he say that about John McCain or about anybody running around, flying around all over the place campaigning? No. Charles Krauthammer is very a very intelligent man, but he's not open, let's put it this way."
Still it's interesting that the environment is such a hot issue in 2007, given that Mr. Kerry has said that the issue didn't stir voters in 2004. His wife rejects that view, and a terseness creeps into her voice.
"[The environment] stirred voters. It didn't get enough voters because it didn't get covered," she says, adding that she and her husband discussed the environment in nearly every speech they gave, touting everything from clean-coal technology to fishery preservation.
The lack of interest by the national media in the subject "is amazing, really, stunning. The local papers would cover it," but it was "not big news. The thing was 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden and fear, fear, fear. And it's so interesting that, you know, the fear and manipulation was such we had red orange and yellow alerts all the time and we haven't had one since the elections."
Oh, yes, about those elections.
Is it hard to turn on the television and see the news about Iraq or about global warming or Hurricane Katrina and think, this is how we would have done this, or that? Of what might have been?
"It is, to read about the kind of inanities being said or being done," she allowed. "It's terrible, whether you were a candidate or not, people are disgusted. And so, it's so scary, it's pathetic."
But "you have to get to a place where you look at the news and not think of yourself there, otherwise you do go crazy.... You have to put yourself in the place of other people and look at it that way."
When Mr. Kerry decided not to run in 2008, it didn't disappoint her, although she says it was obviously hard for him.
"But on the other hand, I don't think we could have done this book, gone out on the road, made the points we were making, and been received openly if we were running. It would have been viewed, as, you know, just a political manipulation.
"This is more serious than running for the presidency."
Maybe it is, but one can only wonder if the Kerrys, with their very great earnestness and seriousness, will be able to pierce through the 24/7 cable television culture now dominated by the likes of Don Imus, Larry Birkhead and Sanjaya Malakar.
It's a problem she clearly recognizes.
"How many times do we need to see Angelina Jolie's babies? Or [whether] Britney Spears has dropped a child or not? You know, that kind of stuff I find so boring and so belittling of all of us, not because I don't want to know that Britney Spears had one accident, or something, if I do, but all the time? These magazines and these things, 'Jen Lo' and 'Benny Lo,' and 'Benny Lou.' Give me a break!"
It's hard to know when she has a chance to even look at the headlines of USWeekly or the E! Channel given her schedule, which, besides the book tour and the women's conference, includes an ongoing reorganization of the Heinz Endowments, blending the Howard Heinz and Vira I. Heinz foundations into one entity and allocating 30 percent of the foundation's annual spending over the next five years into three areas: Pittsburgh Public School reform; the quality and pace of Downtown's real estate development; and "sustainable innovation" -- support for economic development projects combining technological innovation with a concern for the environment.
While some arts and volunteer organizations fear that this will result in decreased funding, Mrs. Heinz Kerry stressed the importance of helping the city's public school children thrive if the region surrounding it is to thrive.
"If we do not have a population in Allegheny County in 10 years that is able to use and be part of the community of the arts, the community of volunteers, of people who reach out to help others, if we don't have healthy young people coming up, we're going to have nothing. That should be our most important thing right now. We have to prepare children to become those adults that can afford to go to the symphony, that want to go to the symphony, that can afford to go to a jazz festival. It doesn't just happen. We have to help it happen."
Her own three sons, John Heinz IV, Andre and Christopher will continue to be involved in her efforts to shape the Pittsburgh region's future, she says, although she has not and will not elaborate a succession plan -- "I would never do that to my sons."
All of them spend time at the Endowments when schedules permit. John runs a private liberal arts high school in Eastern Pennsylvania that takes up much of his time. Andre is "very vocal, very smart and he knows an awful lot about sustainability. He's a very good board member, very vocal even though he spends most of his time in Europe. And Chris is the newest one. He's the one who started later than his brothers, because he was in graduate school, in San Francisco, and he just said, 'Mom, I can't do it all.' Now he's married, and" she adds with a chuckle, "he'd better do it all."
Despite conducting this interview by phone from Sun Valley -- where she stopped for a few days rest between book tour gigs in Seattle, Los Angeles and various Southwestern cities -- and despite spending much time at her houses in Boston and Washington and on the road, Mrs. Heinz Kerry sounds surprised when asked if those other places are pulling her away from Pittsburgh for longer and longer periods.
Actually, the opposite is true, she says, noting she spent four months out of the year here in 2006.
Not only is she "very lucky that I enjoy and care about the things I do," she says, she's lucky "that I have Pittsburgh always to go back to, to work, that I'm happy there, that I can see things, that I can raise consciousness, that I can help create dialogues that might not otherwise probably wouldn't be there. I like that."
If Pittsburgh continues to benefit as a kind of incubator for Mrs. Heinz Kerry's ideas and her money, it's clear that she hopes to translate whatever local successes come her way into something national and lasting, even if she never does reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Indeed, there must be a kind of therapy in the new kind of post-losing-presidential-candidate life she and her husband have carved out for themselves, much as Mr. Gore has done on a far more glittering scale -- writing books, editing each other's copy, doing the town meetings and the talk shows across the country, even if it is, as she says, "exhausting."
Asked how she coped with her husband's defeat, she doesn't admit to being devastated, although some close to her say she was. Still, it's clear that the last days of the campaign still haunt her.
"On the Thursday before the elections, we were winning," she says quietly. "On Friday night there was that tape of Bin Laden. And Saturday, Sunday, Monday all the news was about Bin Laden and threats."
But then, after they lost, she says she knew it still wasn't over.
"I know people's ideas and hopes were there. I saw them. I felt them. I heard them. I told them, don't give up, don't give up, don't give up. My email to the bloggers, to everyone out there, was, you know, this is not a time to hunker down. It was to keep going, because there are too many good people and too much energy, and those things did not lose. They did not lose."
First Published April 14, 2007 10:39 pm