John Kerry/Biography

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John Forbes Kerry is the Junior Senator for Massachusetts. A Democrat, he has served in the U.S. Senate since 1984. In 2004, he made an unsuccessful bid for president, losing to incumbent President George W. Bush.


Family history and childhood years

Kerry was born in the west wing of Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado outside Denver, where his father, Richard Kerry, a World War II Army Air Corps test pilot, had been undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. Kerry's family returned to their home state of Massachusetts two months after his birth.

Family background

Kerry is the second child of Richard John Kerry and Rosemary Forbes Kerry. He has three siblings: Margery (1941), Diana (1947) and Cameron (1950). He and his immediate family members were observant Roman Catholics. As a child, Kerry served as an altar boy.

Although the extended family enjoyed a great fortune, Kerry's parents themselves were upper-middle class; a wealthy great aunt paid for Kerry to attend elite schools in Europe and New England.

Kerry spent his summers at the Forbes family estate in France, and there, he enjoyed a more opulent lifestyle than he had previously known in Massachusetts. While living in the U.S., Kerry spent several summers at the Forbes family's estates on Naushon Island off Cape Cod.

Maternal family background

John Kerry's maternal grandfather, James Grant Forbes, was born in Shanghai, China, where the family accumulated a fortune in opium and China trade. Forbes married Margaret Tyndal Winthrop, who came from the Dudley-Winthrop political family. Through her, John Kerry is distantly related to four US Presidents [1] and to various royals in Europe. [2]

Paternal family background

Kerry's paternal grandfather, Frederick A. Kerry (born Fritz Kohn), was born on May 10, 1873 in the town of Horní Bene?ov, Austria-Hungary, and grew up in Mödling, Austria (a small town near Vienna). He and his wife Ida were both German-speaking Ashkenazi Jews. In 1901, Fritz and Ida Kohn converted from Judaism to Catholicism and changed his name to Frederick Kerry. They then immigrated to the United States, arriving at Ellis Island in 1905. They raised their three children, including John's father, as Catholics. Frederick Kerry himself committed suicide in the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston on November 23, 1921.

Kerry's father, Richard Kerry, was born on July 28, 1915 in Massachusetts. After a stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he worked for the Foreign Service and served as an attorney for the Bureau of United Nations Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.

In 1937, Richard Kerry met Rosemary Forbes, a member of the wealthy Forbes family. One of 11 children, she studied to be a nurse, and served in the Red Cross in Paris during World War II. The couple married in Montgomery, Alabama in January 1941.

Childhood years

Kerry has said that his first memory is from when he was three years old, of holding his crying mother's hand while they walked through the broken glass and rubble of her childhood home in Saint-Briac, France. This visit came shortly after the United States had liberated Saint-Briac from the Nazis on August 14, 1944. The family estate, known as Les Essarts, had been occupied and used as a Nazi headquarters during the war. When the Germans abandoned it, they bombed Les Essarts and burnt it down.

The sprawling estate was rebuilt in 1954. Kerry and his parents would often spend the summer holidays there. During these summers, he became good friends with his first cousin Brice Lalonde, a future Socialist and Green Party leader in France who ran for president of France in 1981.

Boarding school (1957-1962)

While his father was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, Kerry was sent to Massachusetts to attend boarding school. In 1957, he attended the Fessenden School in West Newton, a village in Newton, Massachusetts. There he met and became friends with Richard Pershing, grandson of WW1 U.S. Gen. John Joseph Pershing.

The following year, he enrolled at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and graduated from there in 1962. Kerry's elderly great-aunt, Clara Winthrop, covered the costs. According to Kerry, at St. Paul's, he felt out of place because he was Catholic and liberal, while most of his fellow students were Republicans and Episcopalians.

Despite having difficulty fitting in, Kerry made friends and developed his interests. He learned skills in public speaking and began developing interest in politics. In his free time, he enjoyed ice hockey and lacrosse, which he played on teams captained by classmate Robert S. Mueller III, the current director of the FBI. Kerry also played electric bass for the prep school's band The Electras, which produced an album in 1961. Only 500 copies were made — one was auctioned on eBay in 2004 for $2,551.

In 1959 Kerry founded the John Winant Society at St. Paul's to debate the issues of the day; the Society still exists there. In November 1960, Kerry gave his first political speech, in favor of John F. Kennedy's election to the White House.

Yale University (1962-1966)

In 1962, Kerry entered Yale University, majoring in political science. He graduated with a B.A. in 1966. Kerry played on the soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and fencing teams; in addition, he took flying lessons. To earn extra money during the summers, he loaded trucks in a grocery warehouse and sold encyclopedias door to door.

In his sophomore year, Kerry became president of the Yale Political Union. His involvement with the Political Union gave him an opportunity to be involved with important issues of the day, such as the civil rights movement and Kennedy's New Frontier program. He was also inducted into the Skull and Bones Society. President George W Bush was inducted two years later.

Under the guidance of the speaking coach and history professor Rollin Osterweis, Kerry won many debates against other college students from across the nation. In March 1965, as the Vietnam War escalated, he won the Ten Eyck prize as the best orator in the junior class for a speech that was critical of U.S. foreign policy. In the speech he said, "It is the specter of Western imperialism that causes more fear among Africans and Asians than communism, and thus it is self-defeating." [3]

Over four years, Kerry maintained a 76 grade average and received an 81 average in his senior year.[4] Kerry, even then a capable speaker, was chosen to give the class oration at graduation. His speech was a broad criticism of American foreign policy, including the Vietnam War, in which he would soon participate.

Encounters with President Kennedy (1962)

In 1962, Kerry was a volunteer for Edward Kennedy's first Senatorial campaign. That summer, he dated Janet Jennings Auchincloss, Jacqueline Kennedy's half-sister. Auchincloss invited Kerry to visit her family's estate, Hammersmith Farm in Rhode Island. It was there that Kerry met President Kennedy for the first time.

According to Kerry, when he told the president he was about to enter Yale University, Kennedy grimaced because he had gone to rival Harvard University. Kerry later recalled, "He smiled at me, laughed and said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. You know I'm a Yale man too now.'" According to Kerry, "The President uttered that famous comment about how he had the best of two worlds now: a Harvard education and Yale degree," in reference to the honorary degree he had received from Yale a few months earlier. Later that day, a White House photographer snapped a photo of Kerry sailing with Kennedy and his family in Narragansett Bay.


Kerry was married to Julia Thorne in 1970, and they had two children together. Alexandra Kerry was born on September 5, 1973, days before Kerry began law school. A graduate of Brown University, Alexandra received her M.F.A. in June 2004 from the AFI Conservatory. Vanessa Kerry was born on December 31, 1976. She is a graduate of Phillips Academy (like her grandfather) and Yale University, and is currently a student at Harvard Medical School. Vanessa was active in her father's 2004 Presidential campaign.

In 1982 Thorne, who was suffering from severe depression, asked Kerry for a separation. [5] They were divorced on July 25, 1988. According the Washington Blade: "Kerry and Thorne finalized their divorce in 1988... After Thorne requested an increase in alimony in 1995, Kerry sought an annulment of their marriage from the Catholic Church, a move observers saw as retaliatory. Kerry eventually received the annulment from the Boston diocese despite Thorne's vehement objections." [6] The marriage was formally annulled by the Roman Catholic Church in 1997.

"After 14 years as a political wife, I associated politics only with anger, fear and loneliness" she wrote in A Change of Heart, her book about depression. Thorne later married Richard Charlesworth, an architect, and moved to Bozeman, Montana, where she became active in local environmental groups such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Kerry and his second wife, Teresa Simões-Ferreira Heinz, the widow of Pennsylvania Senator H. John Heinz III, a Republican, and former United Nations interpreter, as well as a Bonesman legacy, were introduced to each other by John Heinz at an Earth Day rally in 1990. They did not meet again until after John Heinz's death, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. They married on May 26, 1995, in Nantucket. John Kerry's stepsons – Teresa's three sons from her previous marriage – are H. John Heinz IV, André Heinz, and Christopher Heinz.

The Forbes 400 survey estimated in 2004 that Teresa Heinz Kerry had a net worth of $750 million. However, estimates have frequently varied, ranging from around $165 million to as high as $3.2 billion, according to a study in the Los Angeles Times. Regardless of which figure is given, Kerry is the wealthiest U.S. Senator. Kerry is wealthy in his own name, and is the beneficiary of at least four trusts inherited from Forbes family members, including his mother, who died in 2002. Forbes magazine (a major business magazine named for an unrelated Forbes family) estimated that if elected, Kerry would be the third-richest U.S. President in history when adjusted for inflation [7]. This assessment was based on the couple's combined assets, but Kerry and Heinz signed a pre-nuptial agreement that keeps their assets separate. [8] Kerry's financial disclosure form for 2002 put his personal assets in the range of $409,000 to $1.8 million, with additional assets held jointly by Kerry and his wife in the range of $300,000 to $600,000. [9]

John Kerry has two sisters, Diana and Peggy, and a brother, Cameron, who is a litigator in Boston. Cameron converted to Judaism in 1983. During the 2004 election, he led a Kerry campaign effort in Israel to reach American expatriate voters.

Religious beliefs and practices

According to some of these who know him, Kerry is a religious man. A practicing Roman Catholic, he is said to carry a rosary, a prayer book, and a St. Christopher medal (the patron saint of travelers) when he campaigns. However, he supports policies such as abortion, which is in opposition to Roman Catholic beliefs. [10] "I thought of being a priest," Kerry recalled. "I was very religious while at school in Switzerland. I was an altar boy and prayed all the time. I was very centered around the Mass and the church."

According to Christianity Today:

"I'm a Catholic and I practice, but at the same time I have an open-mindedness to many other expressions of spirituality that come through different religions. ... I've spent some time reading and thinking about [religion] and trying to study it, and I've arrived at not so much a sense of the differences, but a sense of the similarities in so many ways; the value-system roots and linkages between the Torah, the Qur'an, and the Bible and the fundamental story that runs through all of this, that ... really connects all of us." [11]

Early career (1972-1985)

1972 Campaign for Congress

In February 1972, after Kerry previously passed on an opportunity to run in another district, his wife, Julia bought a house in Worcester. Residence there would have required Kerry to run for Congress against an incumbent Democrat, Harold D. Donohue. Instead however, the couple rented an apartment in Lowell. The incumbent in that district, F. Bradford Morse, was a Republican who was thought to be retiring.

Counting Kerry, the Democratic primary race in 1972 had 10 candidates. One of these was State Representative Anthony R. DiFruscia of Lawrence. Both Kerry's and DiFuscia's campaign HQ's were in the same building. On the eve of the September primary, Kerry's younger brother Cameron and campaign field director Thomas J. Vallely, both then 22 years old, were found by police in the basement of this building, where the telephone lines were located. They were arrested and charged with "breaking and entering with the intent to commit grand larceny", but the case was dismissed about a year later. At the time of the incident, DiFruscia alleged that they were trying to disrupt his get-out-the vote efforts. Vallely and Cameron Kerry maintained that they were only checking their own telephone lines because they had received an anonymous call warning that the Kerry lines would be cut. [12]

Although Kerry's campaign was hurt by the election-day report of the arrest, he still won the primary by a comfortable margin over state Representative Paul J. Sheehy. DiFruscia placed third. Kerry lost in Lawrence and Lowell, his chief opponents' bases, but placed first in 18 of the district's 22 towns.

In the general election, Kerry was initially favored to defeat the Republican candidate, former state Representative Paul W. Cronin, and an independent, Roger P. Durkin. A major obstacle, however, was the district's leading newspaper, the conservative Lowell Sun. The paper editorialized against him. It also ran critical news stories about his out-of-state contributions and his "carpetbagging", because he had moved into the district only in April. The final blow came when, four days before the election, Durkin withdrew in favor of Cronin. Cronin won the election, becoming the only Republican to be elected to Congress that November in a district carried by Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern.

Career in law and politics (1972-1985)

After Kerry's 1972 defeat, he and his wife bought a house in Lowell. He spent some time working as a fundraiser for the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), an international humanitarian organization. He decided that the best way for him to continue in public life was to study law. In September 1973, he entered Boston College Law School at Newton, Massachusetts. In July 1974, while attending law school, Kerry was named executive director of Mass Action, a Massachusetts advocacy association.

He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1976. While in law school he had been a student prosecutor in the office of the District Attorney of Middlesex County, John J. Droney. After passing the bar exam and being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1976, he went to work in that office as a full-time prosecutor.

In January 1977, Droney promoted him to First Assistant District Attorney. In that position, Kerry had dual roles. First, he tried cases, winning convictions in a high-profile rape case and a murder. Second, he played a role in administering the office of the district attorney by initiating the creation of special white-collar and organized crime units, creating programs to address the problems of rape and other crime victims and of witnesses, and managing trial calendars to reflect case priorities. It was in this role in 1978, that Kerry announced an investigation into possible criminal charges against then Senator Edward Brooke, regarding "misstatements" in his first divorce trial. [13]

Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts

In 1979, Kerry resigned from the District Attorney's office to set up a private law firm with another former prosecutor. And, although his private law practice was a success, Kerry was still interested in public office. He re-entered electoral politics by running for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and won a narrow victory in the 1982 Democratic primary. The ticket, with Michael Dukakis as the gubernatorial candidate, won the general election without difficulty.

The position of Lieutenant Governor carried few inherent responsibilities. Dukakis, however, delegated additional matters to Kerry. In particular, Kerry's interest in environmental protection led him to become heavily involved in the issue of acid rain. His work contributed to a National Governors Association resolution in 1984 that was a precursor to the 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act.

During his campaign, Kerry had argued that nuclear evacuation planning was "a sham intended to deceive Americans into believing they could survive a nuclear war". Once in office, he drafted an Executive Order condemning such planning, which Dukakis signed.

1984 Senate election

The junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Paul Tsongas, announced in 1984 that he would be stepping down for health reasons. Kerry decided to run for the seat. As in his 1982 race for Lieutenant Governor, he did not receive the endorsement of the party regulars at the state Democratic convention. Again as in 1982, however, he prevailed in a close primary. In his campaign he promised to mix liberalism with tight budget controls. As the Democratic candidate he was elected to the Senate despite a nationwide landslide for the re-election of Republican President Ronald Reagan, whom Massachusetts voted for by a narrow margin. In his acceptance speech, Kerry asserted that his win meant that the people of Massachusetts "emphatically reject the politics of selfishness and the notion that women must be treated as second-class citizens." Kerry was sworn in as a U.S. Senator in January 1985.

1996 re-election bid

In 1996, Kerry faced a difficult re-election fight against Governor William Weld, a popular Republican incumbent who had been re-elected in 1994 with 71% of the vote. The race was covered nationwide as one of the most closely-watched Senate races that year. Kerry and Weld held several debates and negotiated a campaign spending cap of $6.9 million at Kerry's Beacon Hill mansion. During the campaign, Kerry spoke briefly at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Senator Kerry won re-election with 53 percent to Weld's 45 percent. According to Newsweek, during the 2004 presidential election, Weld was interviewed by Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and other senior members of the Bush campaign on debating and running against Kerry.

2000 presidential election

In the 2000 presidential elections, Kerry again found himself close to being chosen as the vice presidential running mate [14].

A release from the presidential campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Al Gore listed Kerry on the short list to be selected as the vice-presidential nominee, along with North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen, and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Gore eventually selected Lieberman as the nominee, but Kerry continued to campaign on behalf of the Gore-Lieberman campaign through Election Day.

Sponsorship of legislation

During his Senate career, Kerry has sponsored or cosponsored dozens of bills. Some of his notable bills have addressed small business concerns, education, terrorism, veterans' and POW-MIA issues, marine resource protection and other topics. Of those bills with his sponsorship, as of 12.2004, 11 have been signed into law.

Political chairmanships

Kerry was the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 1987 to 1989. He was reelected to the Senate in 1990, 1996 (after winning re-election against the then-Governor of Massachusetts, Republican William Weld), and 2002. His current term will end on January 3, 2009.

2004 Presidential election

In the 2004 Democratic Presidential primaries, John Kerry defeated several Democratic rivals, including Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark. His victory in the Iowa caucuses is widely believed to be the tipping point where Kerry revived his sagging campaign in New Hampshire and the February 3rd primary states like Arizona, South Carolina and New Mexico. Kerry then went on to win landslide victories in Nevada and Wisconsin. Kerry thus won the Democratic nomination to run for President of the United States against incumbent George W. Bush. On July 6, 2004, he announced his selection of John Edwards as his running mate.

On November 3, 2004, Kerry conceded the race. Kerry won 59.03 million votes or about 48 percent of the popular vote; Bush won 62.04 million votes, or about 51 percent of the popular vote. Kerry received the second-highest number of votes ever for president of the United States, Bush getting the highest. Kerry carried states with a total of 252 electoral votes, but one Kerry elector voted for Kerry's running mate, Edwards, so in the final tally Kerry had 251 electoral votes to Bush's 286. Although, as in the 2000 election, there were disputes about the voting (see w:2004 U.S. presidential election controversy and irregularities), no state was as close as Florida had been in 2000.

Speculation about possible 2008 presidential bid

Immediately after the 2004 election, some Democrats mentioned Kerry as a possible contender for the 2008 Democratic nomination. His brother has said such a campaign is "conceivable," and Kerry himself reportedly said at a farewell party for his 2004 campaign staff, "There's always another four years", and has repeatedly responded to the question of running again by saying "I'm keeping all of my options open." Some aides, however, have stated that Kerry told campaign officials he could not envision another run. [15].

Kerry's campaign fund still holds some unspent money that he raised in running for the 2004 Democratic nomination, because he was not allowed to spend it in the general election. In mid-October, 2004, this sum was about $45 million. He donated most of that to the Democratic National Committee and to state Democratic parties, but he has at least $15 million left, which could be used directly for another presidential campaign, or indirectly to build his stature within the party by helping other Democratic candidates. Some criticism was leveled at Kerry for not using the remaining funds for Democratic campaigns in 2004. He has also established a separate political action committee, Keeping America's Promise [16], that can raise money and channel contributions to Democratic candidates in state and federal races. [17] Through Keeping America's Promise in 2005, Kerry raised over $5.5 million for other Democrats up and down the ballot. Through his campaign account and his political action committee, Keeping America's Promise, Kerry has donated a total of $700,000 to 80 candidates and $5.3 million for dozens of Democratic candidates, state parties and charitable causes. [18] Kerry has held political events in 22 states since last year's election, including visits to the presidential proving grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire and swing states such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.[19] He has helped organize 45 fund-raisers for Democratic candidates, and has used his e-mail list of 3 million supporters for lobbying campaigns on major issues in Congress. [20] He also raised over $3.4 million in federal money for his Senate account which can be transferred to another presidential run. [21] Kerry's $15 million war chest is surpassed only by Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York -- who has a war chest of about $17 million -- among potential 2008 Democratic contenders. [22]

In some polls during 2005, Kerry remained a leading Democratic candidate for his party's nomination in the presidential election of 2008. Several polls showed him beating George Bush if the 2004 election were held today. [23] His online community generated 3 million responses of one sort or another last year. [24]

In 2006, Kerry continued to fundraise at an impressive clip. Through Keeping America's Promise, Kerry has raised $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2006 from 11,000 donors nationally earning him the moniker "fundraiser in chief." [25] His supporters are buoyed by recent polls that show him beating George Bush by 10% if the 2004 election were held this year. [26]