If Kerry Elected: Richest Pres. Ever

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    Wealth of Others Helped to Shape Kerry's Life
    By ROBERT F. WORTH

    Published: October 10, 2004


    T.-BRIAC-SUR-MER, France, Oct. 4 - The estate that belonged to John Kerry's grandparents sits high on a bluff in this Brittany resort town, a massive stone house overlooking a stunning landscape of wind-tossed ocean and jagged headlands. Villagers still speak in awed tones about his grandmother, who was known for her generosity and her regal horseback rides along the hilltops.

    It was here, on childhood summer visits with his cousins, that Mr. Kerry played on the beach and fished for octopus in the tidal pools. And it was here that the boy from Massachusetts glimpsed a much grander life than he had known back home, and began, perhaps, to acquire the sheen of privilege and sophistication that would become an inescapable part and a persistent liability of his life in politics.

    Today, Mr. Kerry's life is defined against similarly grand settings. In winter, he goes helicopter skiing while staying at his wife's Idaho retreat, a 15th-century farmhouse transported from England and reassembled on the banks of the Big Wood River in Sun Valley. In summer, he windsurfs and sails off the coast of Nantucket, where she has another home. The couple have an 18th-century town house in Boston where the kitchen is two stories high. There is a 23-room town house in Washington, an 88-acre Pittsburgh area estate, a private Gulfstream jet and a personal staff of six, including caretakers and a cook.

    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.

    Mr. Kerry and his wife are also cursed with the kind of good taste that suggests old money. On the walls of their Boston and Washington town houses hang a collection of Dutch and Flemish still lifes mostly from the 17th century, so precious that the insurance company asks that the artwork not be photographed. Visitors comment on the restrained stylishness of the couple's homes, at least two of which were decorated by Mark Hampton, the New York designer who counted Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Estée Lauder and Pamela Harriman among his clients.

    Many of these details reflect the influence of Ms. Heinz Kerry, who owns four of the five homes (the Boston town house, acquired after their marriage, is owned jointly). She is the art collector, the wine connoisseur and the gourmet, friends say. Mr. Kerry is happy to enjoy all those things with her, but his own tastes tend to be much simpler. His favorite foods are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, said his brother, Cameron F. Kerry. He is essentially a man of the outdoors, and his indulgences are much more likely to focus on buying boats, cars, bicycles or windsurfing gear, friends say. "Teresa has all these wine cellars, but John's not a big wine drinker," said Wade Sanders, who has known Mr. Kerry since 1966, and is currently making appearances on behalf of Mr. Kerry. "He'll occasionally bring a bottle or two out to Nantucket, that's about it."
     

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