Heinz Kerry Has Hometown Appeal in Pennsylvania
PITTSBURGH – When the chairwoman of the $1.3 billion Heinz Endowments signs a document, she uses what she calls her "Pittsburgh name": Teresa Heinz (search).
Her surname is everywhere in the Steel City. A large bottle of ketchup reading "Heinz" hovers over the North Side headquarters of the H.J. Heinz Co. The Pittsburgh Steelers play at Heinz Field and the symphony plays at Heinz Hall. Schoolchildren tour the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, named after her late husband.
Teresa Heinz married John Heinz in Pittsburgh, raised their three sons here, and mourned her husband at the University of Pittsburgh's Heinz Chapel. Now known as Teresa Heinz Kerry, and in spite of a hectic schedule on the campaign trail, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) returns to the city often.
"It's my home," she says. And, some believe, a personal connection that will help her husband win Pennsylvania and the White House.
Heinz Kerry's only ties to the Heinz Co. is as owner of less than 4 percent of its stock. She does not own the company or sit on its board. She remained a registered Republican even after marrying Kerry in 1995 but changed parties when he decided to run for president.
"Mrs. Heinz Kerry is like a lot of Pennsylvania voters in that they're not always wedded to one political party. She's not afraid to support candidates who are at times better," said state Rep. T.J. Rooney, the state Democratic chairman. "I don't think, in that sense, she's any different from the average Pennsylvania voter."
Elsie Hillman, a prominent Pittsburgh Republican and philanthropist, said she doesn't think her friend's ties to the city will necessarily give Kerry an advantage.
"I don't think that where she comes from really matters," Hillman said. Both Kerry and President Bush have many friends in Pittsburgh, she said, and it's unclear how that will affect the election.
Pittsburgh, with about 334,000 people, traditionally has been a Democratic city. Its residents haven't elected a Republican mayor since the Depression. In the 2000 presidential election, Bush lost the state to Al Gore by 200,000 votes, many of them in the crucial swing suburbs around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Some in Pittsburgh blame Democrats for the city's financial woes. Last year, Pennsylvania declared the city distressed after its spending exceeded revenues for at least three years and it projected a $42 million budget deficit. But experts say that won't have an affect on the presidential election.
"The suburbs are going to be where this race is going to be decided. The cities are Democratic," said Stephen K. Medvic, who teaches government at Franklin & Marshall College.
Heinz Kerry alone won't be the reason people choose her husband, Medvic said, but it might make them more inclined to listen to his message.
"It will be interesting to see how (the campaign) uses her, because in some ways she's an asset. But when push comes to shove, it's Kerry they're voting for and they want to hear what he has to say," he said.
Heinz Kerry married John Heinz in 1966, five years before he was elected to the U.S. House and 10 years before his election to the Senate. She inherited a $500 million fortune when he died in 1991 in a plane crash, but decided against running for his Senate seat to stay in the city.
"I just felt very, very strongly in my heart that my job was just to be a mother ... to help people heal and rebuild," she said.
Heinz Kerry and John Kerry maintain a home in Pittsburgh's Fox Chapel community. She oversees The Heinz Endowments, two private foundations that award money to various causes throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. She is credited with giving them a vision and strategy in which goals and results are tied to grants.
"People here have tremendous respect for Teresa and clearly appreciate all the work she's done to help this city and region," said Maxwell King, president of The Heinz Endowments.
In 1993, she established the Heinz Award to honor people who have contributed to causes important to her late husband, including the arts and humanities, the environment, public policy, the economy and employment. She took the lead in a competition to design an environmentally friendly and state-of-the-art convention center on the Pittsburgh waterfront and has backed community programs and the Pittsburgh Symphony. She's most proud of Pittsburgh's distinction of having the most environmentally friendly buildings of any city in the country.
Mayor Tom Murphy, a Democrat, has called Heinz Kerry "the patron saint of Pittsburgh" and said Kerry, the candidate, will do well in Pittsburgh come November.
"I think that anybody has a home advantage. George Bush will do well in Texas because he's from Texas," Murphy said. "I do believe that we'll do better because Teresa is from western Pennsylvania."