Federally funded Botox clinics. Diamond pickle pins. Fish stew for state dinners, followed by green tea and Portuguese pound cake. Pre-nups and private Gulfstream jets. Hermes bags, aromatherapy, homeopathic remedies and $4,000 Chanel suits. No more twin sets. No more twins. Blowsy hair, brassy mouth and bossy boots.
Is mainstream America ready for Teresa Heinz Kerry, a woman who radio host Don Imus wonders might be “too crazy to be first lady”?
“Well, they better be,” said Betty Ford’s former press secretary Sheila Weidenfeld. “I think she’s going to be controversial, which is good. That’s because she’ll speak up.”
“The French will love her,” deadpanned Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan’s former press secretary.
“Put it this way,” said author and Forbes FYI editor Christopher Buckley, “I think Teresa Heinz would be by far the only thing to enjoy during what I suspect will be four dreary years of the human tree.”
For that reason, social Washington is salivating at the idea of a revitalized White House, with a multilingual, art-collecting, wine-drinking, garden-loving billionairess who calls herself “cheeky” and “sexy” running the salon.
Criticized as “bonkers” by her opponents, the unconventional Mrs. Kerry — who describes her detractors as “scumbags” — would be the first foreign-born first lady since John Quincy Adams’ wife, Louisa, a native of London. And at the age of 66, she would be the oldest incoming first lady.
She would also be the wealthiest, having inherited an estate reportedly worth $500 million in 1991 (“my pile,” as she jokes) after her first husband, ketchup heir and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. John H. Heinz III, was killed in an airplane crash.
She owns five luxury homes and a private plane, The Flying Squirrel. Mrs. Kerry’s fortune — now estimated at $1.2 billion — has been her passport to a world of privilege and power far beyond that of the average political wife.
“She knows people in all walks of life,” said Time magazine photographer Diana Walker, one of Mrs. Kerry’s closest friends. “She knows where the brains are.”
“What we’re hungry for,” said former Clinton administration official Ann Pincus, “is someone who’s engaged.”
The Bushes have been virtually incognito for the last four years. Harpers Bazaar recently referred to the first lady’s style as “Marian the Librarian.”
“Nobody’s been to The White House,” added Mrs. Pincus. “You don’t know about them. There’s no buzz.” The president is a teetotaler and Laura Bush “doesn’t even do lunches. It’s like, ‘Hello, is this 1958?’”
“Laura is a gracious person, but she’s been relegated to being a pretty picture,” noted publishing heiress Marie Ridder. “Whereas John Kerry does listen to Teresa, who has a powerful voice.”
Her off-the-cuff remarks — including saying she only tacked on her husband’s name for political reasons — differ radically from Mrs. Bush’s quiet deference. But the real difference, observers say, is their personas.
“I think Washington will be more active” with Mrs. Kerry in the White House, said Democratic stalwart Esther Coopersmith. “I don’t think John Kerry and Teresa will go to bed at 9 o’clock.”
Described as “with it” by people she knows, Mrs. Kerry’s sophisticated social circle is in stark contrast to Mrs. Bush’s down-home Texas ways. Her politics are also starkly different.
Mrs. Kerry is pro-choice and pro-homosexual rights. Over the past decade, through the Heinz Endowments, she donated $8.1 million to the liberal nonprofit Tides Center, making hefty donations to the Three Rivers Community Foundation, which funds the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh. Marian Wright Edelman, Hillary Clinton’s mentor and head of the Children’s Defense Fund, has also been a recipient of Mrs. Kerry’s largesse.
Washington socialites speculate what a Kerry administration would bring. “I don’t think they’re going to serve grits in the White House,” said Smith Bagley, whose wife Elizabeth was ambassador to Portugal during the Clinton administration.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree on one point: Mrs. Kerry is an object of fascination.
“I think she has this kind of magic,” said Mrs. Coopersmith’s daughter Connie, a Democratic activist in her own right who did advance work for Mrs. Kerry recently. “She’s a very subtle cross between Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. She’s a real sensualist.”
According to her acquaintances, the aspiring first lady likes to stay up late, is a marvelous cook, has lots of diamonds and is given to wearing espadrilles on the rope line. She loves shoes, and sports spike-heeled Jimmy Choos with confidence. Her clothes, from such trustworthy labels as Armani, while designer, are not regarded as couture.
“I doubt there will ever be an exhibit of her clothes at the [Metropolitan Museum of Art],” added Connie Coopersmith. One of her close friends is Ari Kopelman, president of Chanel.
She is often tardy, explaining that she doesn’t like to “be bossed around” by anyone.
Some observers are worried at the prospect of an “engaged” first lady.
“The first lady is not elected to anything,” said a former White House staffer. “The minute she thinks she is, she’s in big trouble.”
She and her husband don’t always see eye to eye, and one recent report had the couple retreating to separate hotel rooms after a spat on the campaign trail.
“They argue, they discuss, they carry on,” said Pie Friendly, longtime Washington hostess and friend. “Then they flirt. Then they argue some more.”
Friends say the conversations are spirited and eclectic.
“Most political wives are anesthetized by the time they even get close to the White House,” said French Wallop, ex-wife of former Republican Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, “They are not able to speak their minds, terrorized by the staff or their husbands. Teresa doesn’t give a fig leaf what anybody cares about her.”
Mrs. Wallop points out that the Bushes have only hosted “what, four or five state dinners in four years? These people don’t understand that to get things done you have to have these stupid dinners.”
On the topic of Laura vs. Teresa, Mrs. Wallop said, “Middle America would find Laura Bush more palatable than an intimidating person such as Teresa.”
First ladies traditionally have been most effective, observers agree, when they are simply supporting their husbands. “She’s not going to do what Mrs. Carter did, sitting in Cabinet meetings,” recalled Anne Wexler Duffy, who served as Rosalynn Carter’s press secretary, and noted the rolled eyes and rueful winks in those meetings.
Born in Mozambique and schooled in Switzerland, Mrs. Kerry has an air of “colonial aristocracy,” said one acquaintance. That has not endeared her to some voters. (She famously described herself as “African-American” to black audiences.)
“Teresa is much more flamboyant,” says Ina Ginsburg, the Vienna, Austrian-born former Washington editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Miss Ginsburg has known Mrs. Kerry for years — saying, “we shared a ski instructor” — and thinks she will be a wonderful change.
“It’s non-Americans and Americans. It seems Europeans lose their temper. We’re just more excitable.”