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New kids on the stump

Times Staff Writer

The heartthrob potential is there, definitely. It’s in the full head of dark brown hair, the easy laugh, the dreamy stock portfolio. But let’s not be shallow. Christopher Heinz, after all, is a grown man, a 31-year-old investment banker whose stepfather, Sen. John F. Kerry, is running for president. A Yale graduate who majored in history, Heinz cares deeply about the environment, the polarization of wealth in this country and ... he’s tall. Smart. And funny.

Did we mention rich and single?

Even the Harvard MBA wonkishness is endearing: “The most amazing thing that’s happened in this whole process is to watch my parents’ time ... become commoditized, with a very high value per unit ... and then parsed out so there’s very little extra.”

Heinz, who left the New York-based private equity firm Jacobson Partners to work for the campaign, was in L.A. on Tuesday for Kerry’s blowout fundraiser in Benedict Canyon. He stayed at the Peninsula Beverly Hills and made a point of saying he was traveling on his own tab.

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He’s kept the New York apartment, but Heinz does not appear to have any regrets about leaving the job: “I just thought I’d never be as competitive as the next guy, that I’d never be as hungry. Finance is mostly about ‘He who earns the most money wins.’ And you know, our family has some money.”

Indeed it does. The youngest of three boys -- John Heinz IV is 37, Andre is 34 -- Chris Heinz is an heir to his family’s condiment fortune. After his father, the moderate Republican Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, died in a plane crash in 1991, his mother, Teresa Heinz, inherited a sum that has been estimated at around half a billion dollars.

In 1995, she married her second senator, a Massachusetts Democrat, on Nantucket, in one of her five homes. Chris and his stepfather, who share so many qualities it’s “scary,” according to Teresa, have become very close. “Being the youngest,” said his mother, “he missed out on his dad ... and so having John as a male role model has helped him complete that trip -- growing up.”

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A mediagenic trio

Chris Heinz has spent a good deal of the primary season on the campaign trail with his younger stepsisters, Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry. The mediagenic trio, increasingly comfortable in the spotlight, is known for stumping on college campuses ... and for making their parents proud.

In January, the whole family, plus Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and assorted political and showbiz stars, appeared together at a rally in Des Moines. After Kennedy poked fun at his own relationship with his Republican nephew-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Heinz stepped forward and did a funny Arnold impression for the overflow crowd.

“It’s a nice surprise to see Christopher wanting to be out there and then doing well at it,” his mother said during a campaign swing through Wisconsin in February.

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Like his mother, Heinz is refreshingly unrehearsed and game to answer just about any question. There are a couple of things he’d prefer not to talk about. But he hasn’t quite mastered the conversational-door-slamming-shut technique so often displayed in interviews by the famous and pestered. And so, he does talk -- a little bit at least -- about dating Gwyneth Paltrow for a few months in 2000 (which seriously increased his per-unit value in gossip columns) and about his oldest brother, who has an apparently passionate desire to stay out of the campaign fray. “She’s a great girl,” Heinz said of Paltrow. “But a business school student and a Hollywood A-list star is not exactly a great match. But I’d be her boy toy, no problem.”

As for his publicity-averse oldest brother, John, the married father of a 3-year-old daughter who lives in Pennsylvania, Heinz says that he is a teacher who runs a school and that they are very close. (John has also worked as a blacksmith.) His brother, says Heinz, is simply not interested in being a public figure. “John’s someone who’s a bottom-up guy, and a lot of this top-down pressure is threatening to him.”

Heinz isn’t sure what kind of accommodations his brother will make if their stepfather becomes president. “I don’t think there’s much of a model for what a 37-year-old stepson of a president warrants,” he said.

Andre, who according to his mother and brother is a gifted mimic and does Arnold better than Chris, lives in Sweden and works for an environmental consulting and research company called the Natural Step. “We hope he’ll be part of the campaign after the convention,” said Heinz. “He’s a real entertainer.”

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Heinz, whose godparents include Chanel Chief Executive Ari Kopelman and the late Fred Rogers, mostly grew up in Washington, D.C., but considers Sun Valley, Idaho, his real home. (The family spent a few vacation days there last week.) “Sun Valley is our whole lives,” he said. “It’s the only place in the world I go where five minutes of shopping takes 15 because you stop and say hello to everyone.”

After college, he spent a year there as a ski instructor and waiter. As a kid, he’d bugged his parents to buy a home there. “My dad was very low key with the cash,” he said. “He drove a horrible Cadillac, and I don’t mean Cadillac in a good sense. Like in 1989, he was driving a 1978. I don’t know what it is about being a United States senator and having a bad domestic car, but you’re supposed to.”

In 1987, after years of staying with friends, the Heinzes built their own home, using a 15th century English barn as the structure’s main room. “There’s no saying it’s small,” said Heinz, “but it’s cozy.”

Lately, he’s been compared to John F. Kennedy Jr. He shrugs off the comparison but mentions that he was taking flying lessons in Bedford, Mass., the summer that Kennedy died in a plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

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“That guy wanted to fly for the same reasons I’d like to -- escapism, autonomy, the same reason I drive a motorcycle,” said Heinz.

“Going down at the controls of a plane doesn’t seem like the end of the world.” However, he said he stopped the lessons out of consideration for his mother “and stuff like that.”

Inevitably, he’s also asked about his political aspirations: “I’d be lying if I thought there were certain things I am doing right now that weren’t planting seeds,” said Heinz, “but that’s mostly for option value, because I don’t know where my mind is going to be in seven or eight months. He could win and I could hate politics.”


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