PITTSBURGH - When Teresa Heinz Kerry weighed in on the planned expansion of Pittsburgh's convention center - as she does on almost every major project in this town - Mayor Tom Murphy was skeptical. Turn the convention center into the world's largest "green" building, designed to reduce energy costs, save water and cut down on trash? In Pittsburgh, a financially beleaguered city formerly known for its belching smokestacks and black rain?
Seven years later, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center juts over the Allegheny River, its curved roof looking like a ramp in a giant skateboard park.
Reflective roofing materials and a skylight help control the temperature. A reclamation system makes water flushed down toilets suitable for indoor plants. It was made possible by a design competition paid for in part by the Heinz Endowments, led by Heinz Kerry since 1991.
To Murphy, the building is an example of why those who underestimate the fabulously wealthy and outspoken wife of Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry - known for her frank discussions of Botox, pre-nups and her husband's Vietnam nightmares - are bound to be surprised.
"This woman is not flaky," says the mayor, a Democrat. "You might react that way because she's ahead of you in her ideas. But at some point, you're going to get there."
In Pittsburgh and nationally, the ideas of Heinz Kerry, backed by the $1.4 billion in assets of two funds that make up the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, have become influential in shaping social policy - from encouraging green buildings in her adopted hometown, to devising a prescription drug plan adopted in Massachusetts, to creation of an environmental research institute in Washington, D.C.
As Republicans seek weaknesses in the Massachusetts senator's candidacy, his wife's giving is already being scrutinized. Heinz Kerry, 65, calls the sniping the comments of "bullies in the play yard."
She registered as a Democrat last year. She was long a part of Republican royalty as the wife of H. John Heinz III, a senator from Pennsylvania killed in a 1991 plane crash and the scion of the family that made its fortune selling 57 varieties of ketchup and condiments.
So it was something of an irony when conservative commentator Christopher Horner called Heinz Kerry "an elitist whose radical pet projects occasionally get off the leash."
Writing in the National Review two weeks ago, he noted that the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Kerry unusually early - before the New Hampshire primary - after a recipient of the annual $250,000 Heinz Awards passed her gift on to the organization. The league has gotten smaller, direct grants from the Heinz Family Foundation in recent years.
"They can write what they want," Heinz Kerry said of her detractors. "Negative people are only negative, and I'm not about that. I'm about doing things that I want that are good."
In an interview, she minimized the influence of her work on her husband's campaign for president. She said that she and Kerry, whom she married in 1995, talk often about issues that are important to them, but that she has not formally helped put together his platform.
"That's a communion, that's how you learn in life," she said of their discussions. "But do I write policy for him? Heck, no."
She says she does not know all the "technicalities" of Kerry's positions on the issues, and she views her role - and that of her charitable work - in his campaign as one of inspiration.
And she points out that some of the trustees on her foundation boards are more conservative than she, yet have approved the grants and projects.
James M. Walton, for example, chairman of one of the endowments, is also a trustee of Pittsburgh's Sarah Scaife Foundation. That foundation's leader, Mellon family member Richard Scaife, is a patron of arch-conservatism who funded the Arkansas Project, an investigation of then-President Bill Clinton by American Spectator magazine.
After her first husband's death, Heinz Kerry was courted by Republicans to run for his Senate seat. Instead, in 1993, Heinz Kerry called a news conference to announce that she found private grant-making a better way to continue his work.
She denounced political campaigns as "the graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises."
"She is someone who is incapable of being anyone other than who she is," said Andrew McElwaine, now the president of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Environmental Council, who was the first director of the endowments' environmental program. "Her heart was in this work, and not in being a U.S. senator."
Since devoting herself to the family's philanthropies full time, Heinz Kerry has done much more than give away money.
In Pittsburgh, the Heinz endowments made headlines when they pulled money out of the public schools to send a message that governance had broken down. They've spawned a separate early-education program for children in needy neighborhoods, started a larger "green building" movement and forced changes in fiscal management at the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Heinz Kerry often speaks of philanthropy in idealistic terms, with long, rambling sentences that close associates say mask a deep sophistication about the subject.
"She is a dead serious person," said Maxwell E.P. King, the former Philadelphia Inquirer editor she hired as president of the endowments in 1999. "I've never been surprised once by what her values were or what her vision was."
After Heinz died, Pittsburghers worried that his widow, who met Heinz in Geneva where she was at a school for translators and came to the Iron City as a young bride, would take the family's money elsewhere.
Instead, Heinz Kerry focused intently on Pittsburgh, though she now divides her time among the Georgetown home she shared with Heinz, the Boston mansion she owns with Kerry, her Pittsburgh-area farm and vacation homes in Idaho and on Nantucket.
As the place where such industrialists as Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon and Henry J. Heinz amassed their fortunes, Pittsburgh is a city used to depending on philanthropic benevolence. And it has become accustomed to its wealthy citizens shaping public affairs.
Banking mogul Mellon was a secretary of the treasury to three presidents. Steel magnate Carnegie built public libraries across the land. And from the time that Heinz opened his processing plant on Pittsburgh's North Side at the turn of the 20th century, his family had been involved in local affairs.
Though Heinz Kerry uses her husband's name on the campaign trail, on the Web site of the Heinz Endowments she is still Teresa Heinz, recognizing the longtime connection between the city and Heinz philanthropy.
Jack Heinz, the father of her first husband, oversaw the refurbishing of an old theater as Heinz Hall, home to the Pittsburgh Symphony, in 1971. A dozen years later he founded the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, to cluster arts organizations in a moribund section of downtown.
"The foundations and the endowments are old. They don't exist because of John Kerry or because of me, in fact," Heinz Kerry said.
But the Web site's introduction has her stamp, including a quote from her: "Places become what people dream. Dream big."
Combined, the Heinz Endowments - two separate funds started by the son of the food company founder and another son's wife - had about $1.4 billion in assets in 2001, making them the fourth-largest foundation in Pennsylvania and among the 50 largest in the country.
Heinz Kerry also leads the Heinz Family Philanthropies - a smaller group of funds, worth about $70 million, that has proposed prescription drug plans for several states, published information about financial planning for women and established the annual Heinz Awards for leaders in fields important to her late husband.
Aimed to fix things
When she took over the endowments, she promptly made changes and showed that she wasn't just going to give grants. She was going to fix things.
"She had a lot to learn, because I think there's something different about being on the inside than on the outside," said Elsie Hillman, a Pittsburgh philanthropist and family friend who was a longtime Republican national committeewoman. "She took to it, I think, very easily."
Heinz Kerry brought in staffers who had worked for her late husband. She announced the environmental program, one that had longtime Pittsburghers such as Murphy scratching their heads.
She and McElwaine set an ambitious course, starting such initiatives as the Green Building Alliance, a nonprofit organization that encouraged the green building movement in Pittsburgh. Heinz Kerry was immersed in the details of grants, McElwaine said, once dressing him down because he hadn't included lead abatement in a neighborhood proposal.
In 1993, both endowments gave $20 million to bolster the Pittsburgh Symphony, which had been drawing a sizable percentage from its own endowment. As a condition of the gift, Heinz Kerry required that the symphony cut that draw in half and raise more money to operate.
Two years later, the Vira I. Heinz fund used another $20 million to create the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, billed as a nonpartisan research institution. In 2002, the center published a wide-ranging report on the state of the nation's ecosystems.
With Jeffrey R. Lewis, a former top aide to Senator Heinz and the executive director of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, Heinz Kerry developed a prescription drug proposal for states called HOPE - the Heinz Plan to Overcome Prescription Expenses. In Massachusetts, lawmakers approved a version of the plan in 2000, covering prescriptions for anyone over age 65 with a sliding-scale, insurance-style system of copayments and deductibles.
Setting the bar high
Even on much smaller projects, Heinz has set the bar higher, those who work with her say.
When Sarah Heinz House - a century-old settlement house near the Heinz plant on the city's North Side that is now a community center - needed to expand, King crafted a $3 million grant for the board's approval, incorporating the work of a local architect.
Then Heinz called King to say he wasn't thinking big enough. She wanted him to make the Sarah Heinz House a model youth center.
Ultimately, she brought in an architect with a national reputation in green building and held a community conference to get ideas for programs there. Heinz lingered so long at the conference, King said, that her driver had to pull her away to take her to the airport.
Heinz Kerry has directed her staff not to shy away from controversial stands.
In the summer of 2002, the Heinz endowments and two other Pittsburgh foundations made national headlines when they pulled a collective $3.5 million in funding out of the city's school district, saying relations between the superintendent and the school board had caused governance and fiscal management to suffer.
The move was notable because it was purposely done in the open. The foundation leaders called a news conference to announce their lack of confidence in the system, the equivalent of a very public trip to the principal's office for the officials involved.
"This wouldn't have happened without Heinz," said Susan Brownlee, executive director of the Grable Foundation, which joined Heinz and the Pittsburgh Foundation in pulling out of the schools. "To suspend funding is not something most foundations would do."
Not always successful
But Heinz Kerry's initiatives have not always been successful.
The early childhood program that the endowments sponsored cost much more than expected and had to be scaled back.
Despite receiving that historic gift in 1993, the Pittsburgh Symphony has struggled financially, negotiating a wage cut with musicians to avoid a projected budget deficit this year.
King says the foundation probably should have required that the symphony reduce its reliance on its endowment even further a decade ago. But he makes no apologies for the large gift and strings attached.
"You can easily look at it and say it would be much worse, maybe fatal, if we hadn't put that pressure on then," he said.
The highly public pullout from the schools left some relationships badly bruised, especially after a commission appointed by the mayor castigated the district's performance. This month, the three foundations that had withdrawn their funding announced they would entertain proposals from the system again, saying governance had improved.
Not everyone agreed.
"Nothing happened except they got lots of headlines," said Phil Hallen, president emeritus of Pittsburgh's Maurice Falk Medical Fund and otherwise a Heinz Kerry admirer and friend. "They had mud on their faces, and they had to get out of it."
The Massachusetts prescription drugs program - now called Prescription Advantage - narrowly escaped elimination from last year's state budget. Participation is now closed because the system cannot afford any more customers, and Lewis is trying to help the state figure out how to attract higher-income seniors who can help pay for the program.
In Pennsylvania, Heinz Kerry's plan went nowhere. Lawmakers thought it too costly - both for the state and for some seniors already receiving assistance - and independent pharmacies lobbied against it.
"There was just kind of a paralysis of fear," Heinz Kerry said. "It's very sad when that happens."
As she campaigns with her husband, Heinz Kerry says she is continuing her philanthropic projects - albeit in "leave-of-absence mode" - and plans to do so if she becomes first lady. Her staffs, meanwhile, have the delicate assignment of separating their charity work from presidential politics.
While executive director of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, Lewis also acts as Heinz Kerry's chief of staff on the campaign trail - a dual role his boss navigates by paying him not through the foundations, but as an employee of the Heinz family.
The family then bills the hours Lewis works on philanthropic projects back to the foundations, which reported paying $161,138 for his services on their 2001 tax return.
Lewis says wearing both hats doesn't compromise his philanthropic work. "What they [the Kerry campaign] think is not going to ever color what we do," he said. "The activities of the foundation are very separate and distinct."
King, the Heinz Endowments director, has asked staffers not even to discuss politics on the e-mail system. Unlike Lewis, he is an employee of those foundations.
Politics and projects
Still, there have been notable - and at times ironic - intersections between Kerry's politics and Heinz Kerry's projects.
Kerry has excoriated the leadership of Enron for that company's misdeeds. Enron chairman and George W. Bush supporter Kenneth L. Lay sat on the board of the Heinz environmental center for 10 years.
Former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who has been rumored as a possible running mate for Kerry, received a Heinz Award in December for his work on nuclear nonproliferation issues.
And some details of Kerry's prescription drug plan resemble those his wife has proposed, including imposing more transparency on pharmacy benefit managers and using the government's purchasing power to negotiate better drug prices.
Heinz Kerry says policy similarities are coincidental, the result of a husband and wife who consult on issues but pursue individual agendas. Her first husband, too, kept his work with the family foundations separate from his work in government, she said.
"We have the luxury of being able to say what works, and be able to be free to say this does not work, with no problems about saving face or anything," she said. "It's just what we do, to share good news and to share mistakes."
The life of Teresa Heinz Kerry
1938: Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira is born in Mozambique to expatriate Portuguese parents.
1963: Simoes-Ferreira meets H. John Heinz III, scion of the Pittsburgh company that sold 57 varieties of condiments, while she is a student at the Interpreters School at the University of Geneva.
1966: She marries Heinz at Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh in February. Their first son, H. John Heinz IV, is born in November.
1969: Son Andre T. Heinz is born.
1970: H. John Heinz III is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican.
1973: Son Christopher Heinz is born.
1976: H. John Heinz III is elected to the U.S. Senate.
1990: Senator Heinz introduces his wife to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry at an Earth Day rally in Washington.
1991: Senator Heinz dies in a plane crash near Philadelphia. Teresa Heinz inherits about $500 million and control of the family's philanthropic funds.
1992: Teresa Heinz encounters Kerry again at an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The two begin dating the next year.
1993: Teresa Heinz announces she will forgo candidacy for the seat once occupied by her husband to concentrate on philanthropy.
1995: Teresa Heinz marries Kerry.