The family business
Sep. 15, 1999

September 17, 1999

Mark Shriver avoids cashing in on his family's political history, but it's a legacy he can't escape

by Josh Kurtz

Staff Writer

There is a line Mark Shriver uses, with a few variations, whenever he is invited to speak at a school. Here's how it went at the Rock Terrace School commencement in Rockville last June:

"I wondered why you invited me here," he began. "First I thought maybe it's because my sister is a famous broadcaster at NBC. Then I figured it's because my mother started the Special Olympics. Then I thought it's because my brother started Best Buddies. Or because my Uncle Teddy spoke here 10, 15 years ago.

"Then I remember: Arnold Schwarzenegger is my brother-in-law."

Before this appreciative crowd, which consisted of 15 special needs students and their friends and family, he did not even have to mention his father, the Peace Corps founder, or his uncle, the former U.S. attorney general, or his other uncle, the 35th president of the United States. That association, for Shriver, was implicit.

By most accounts, Del. Mark K. Shriver (D-Dist. 15) of Bethesda, is a nice, bright guy, good-looking and charming, a hard worker, a man who cares passionately about his family and who genuinely wants to help people.

By most accounts, he has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment for a man of 35, in five years in the Maryland House of Delegates and in his private life before that.

And despite the quick, self-effacing chronicle of his family's history at Rock Terrace and other schools, Shriver, by most accounts, never overtly exploits the K in his name -- and yes, it stands for Kennedy.

But by the same token, if Shriver did not have the K, if he were Mark Jones, 35-year-old delegate from Montgomery County, he might just be another nice guy with a vaguely promising future instead of one of the best-connected and most-watched people in Maryland politics.

By most accounts, Mark Shriver is one of the hottest political properties in the state these days. Congressman? County executive? Governor? Senator? The future seems unlimited.

"If there's a Democrat that's capable of beating [Republican U.S. Rep.] Connie Morella, I don't think there's any doubt that it would be Mark Shriver," says Del Ali, a Rockville pollster and political strategist.

But there is more to Shriver's promise than an ability to win high office.

"I think Mark Shriver is one of those few politicians who has the potential for really rallying the state behind him," says Blair Lee, the Silver Spring developer and political commentator. "He's got his foot in every camp. I think he could be an honest broker for every region in the state."

Spotlight is on

This morning, Mark Shriver begins a new phase in his political career. But it's probably not what many eager Montgomery County Democrats envisioned.

Today in Annapolis, Shriver will run his first meeting as co-chairman of the legislature's new Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families. The committee -- the result of legislation Shriver sponsored earlier this year -- will be the first in the legislature to look at youth issues in an integrated way, and will attempt to find concrete solutions to specific problems.

"Mark, the youngest committee chair in Annapolis, is a talented legislator who has earned the right to be chair of this committee," says Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 1C) of Cumberland, who handed Shriver the job. "Not only does he understand children's issues, but he knows how to get things done. He works well with people, and he knows how to get people to work together."

In three weeks, on Oct. 2, the Shriver family will host its sixth annual "family picnic" at his parents' estate in Potomac, a popular and much-anticipated event that traditionally draws 2,000 people, including several high-ranking state officials. With it comes the annual speculation about Mark Shriver's plans -- especially intense now with congressional elections just around the corner.

But Shriver's new assignment means the chances of him running for Congress, short of some unforeseen cataclysmic event, are almost infinitesimal next year.

"The committee has him all lit up," says Jeanne R. Shriver, his wife of seven years. "It's absolutely what he's interested in."

Which -- as much as the charm and the ability and the K in his name -- says a lot about Mark Shriver.

Charmed childhood

Mark Shriver has led a full and happy and productive life. Also a very charmed one.

He is the fourth of five children of R. Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Eunice Shriver, 78, was close to her brother, John F. Kennedy. She reportedly once dated Joe McCarthy, the Red-baiting senator from Wisconsin.

"If that girl had been born with balls, she would have been a hell of a politician," her father, family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, once said.

Eunice is considered very shrewd politically -- but she is as interested in policy as in politics. Because her sister Rosemary was retarded, Eunice Shriver has spent a good portion of her life working on causes related to the developmentally disabled -- a passion she passed on to her children.

Sargent Shriver, 84, comes from an old-line Maryland family; an ancestor served in the Maryland legislature in the 18th century.

When he married into the family, Shriver, a lawyer and former journalist, became a valued Kennedy utility man -- dispatched to run the family business, the Merchandise Mart, in Chicago in the 1950s, called back to Washington to start up the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

"I searched all my life for someone like my father, and Sarge came closest," Eunice has been quoted as saying.

But Sargent Shriver was apart from the Kennedy family in one respect: When JFK was assassinated, many Kennedy loyalists abandoned ship. Yet Shriver remained in government, working for LBJ -- first as the head of the anti-poverty program, then as ambassador to France, a position he held into the Nixon administration.

Mark Shriver was in utero on Nov. 22, 1963. And he has no memory of his uncle Bobby, who died when he was 4.

"I did not grow up really cognizant of what was going on in the '60s," he says.

When Mark Shriver was 6, his family returned to Maryland, to a farm off Rockville Pike across from what is now the White Flint Mall, and his father considered running for governor. When he was 8, his father was tapped to be George McGovern's running mate. When he was 12, his father ran, briefly, for president. When he was 16, Ted Kennedy ran for president.

"Every election cycle, there was some member of his family running for some office somewhere," says Tony Williams, son of the late Washington power broker Edward Bennett Williams. Williams and Shriver are lifelong friends who met in the first grade at Mater Dei School in Bethesda.

Shriver remembers only certain aspects of his father's campaigns.

"As an 8-year-old, you don't know what the presidency is, or the vice presidency," he says. "You know that there are just a lot of big strong guys around that you could laugh with and play games with, the Secret Service agents. There was a lot of commotion and a lot of excitement."

By 1980, when Ted Kennedy tried to reclaim the family glory, Mark Shriver was a student at Georgetown Prep. Most weekends, he flew to New Haven, Conn., to meet his older brother, Timothy, who was going to Yale, and the two would stump for Kennedy throughout the Northeast.

"Was it voluntary? It was probably encouraged," Shriver says. "For me, it was a chance to hang out with my older brother."

Friends say Shriver was by no means a political junkie then. He was far more into baseball and other typical adolescent pursuits, like riding his dirt bike in the field that became White Flint. But he seemed to observe and absorb the political swirl around him.

"He was always very aware of what was going on," says Ned Williams, Tony's older brother, who played club rugby at Holy Cross College with Shriver.

Weight of lineage

No family has captivated America more, in the past half-century or so, than the Kennedys. There is their profound political impact, of course, but there is so much more.

Whether it's articles in the supermarket tabloids, highways named for dead members of the family, book titles, song lyrics or names of punk rock bands, there are reminders of them everywhere. And then, for the family, there is the unending, unavoidable public scrutiny.

What's that like, growing up?

Shriver shrugs.

"I don't really consider it America's royal family," he says. "I know that people use that term. But to me, I grew up with a bunch of cousins around and a tight immediate family. Frankly, I didn't know anything else. Sure, sometimes people were taking pictures, and there were political campaigns."

Still, he allows that when he was about 11, his cousin, John F. Kennedy Jr., then 15, taught him the lyrics to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" (with the classic line, "I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys?' /When after all, it was you and me").

Sometimes, Shriver says, he reads about the family's political history with the same detachment as anyone else.

"Sometimes," he says, "you do go, 'Oops, this is my mother's brother, and they lived together in Georgetown when he was a congressman.' My mother and the president were very tight."

But Shriver continues: "I want to make it clear, I am not, nor is any member of my immediate family, preoccupied with this or talking about whatever Uncle Jack did, or Uncle Bobby or Uncle Teddy, or what my father did."

Shriver admits he can't resist checking out the occasional tabloid article about his sister, Maria, when he sees one in the supermarket.

"Usually, you kind of giggle," he says. "I chide my sister, if I remember it."

And of course, in his family, he has to see more Arnold Schwarzenegger movies than the average American does.

"I like some of them better than other ones," he says. "Do we have to go? No. Is it encouraged by my mother? Yes."

Sometimes, Shriver can be touchy about his lineage. In an Annapolis deli, he notices clam chowder on the menu and wonders aloud whether it's any good. When his companion says, "I imagine in your family you have pretty exacting standards for clam chowder," Shriver gives him a dirty look.

When, moments later, the waitress asks him, "Has anyone ever told you you look like a Kennedy?" Shriver shudders.

"It's spooky, because it's like you're talking to Jack Kennedy," Blair Lee says of the physical resemblance.

People who know Shriver and his immediate family say they are remarkably normal, despite the patrician and public upbringing. Shriver's parents insisted that the family eat dinner together every night and do as many activities together as possible.

Not that being part of this famous and plugged-in family didn't have its advantages.

"You have access to people, ideas, that you probably wouldn't have otherwise," Shriver admits.

More pointedly, his association with the Williams family helped Shriver win an internship as Earl Weaver's statistician with his beloved Baltimore Orioles in 1982 (the Orioles were then owned by Edward Bennett Williams).

In 1987, fresh out of college, Shriver went to work as a special assistant to Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The family history was one thing. This was the real beginning of Mark Shriver's political education.

Hard work begins

Shriver was a grunt in Schaefer's administration.

"I Xeroxed papers. I took notes at meetings. I answered his mail," he recalls.

Once, Schaefer asked Shriver to look into a constituent's problem. A few days later, he was incensed to learn that while Shriver had spoken to the woman on the phone, he had not visited her personally.

"He laid into me for about half an hour," Shriver says. "He has the most piercing blue eyes when he's about a foot and a half from your face."

That hands-on, action-now approach impressed Shriver, and he became particularly interested in the problems of inner city youth. Schaefer had deinstitutionalized the juvenile offender population, and Shriver discovered that these young people needed help.

After a year in the Schaefer administration, he moved to Baltimore and set up a nonprofit organization in the Cherry Hill neighborhood called The Choice Program, offering an array of services to juvenile offenders in an effort to keep them out of more trouble.

A year into the program, Shriver used a family connection to affiliate Choice with the University of Maryland Baltimore County -- the provost there was an old employee of his father's. Shriver found himself traveling to Annapolis regularly to pitch for state aid. He met the powerful lawmakers who held the pursestrings. He stayed in close touch with Schaefer.

And The Choice Program grew. By the time Shriver left the organization in the mid-1990s, its annual budget was $6 million. It had attracted favorable notices from nationally known columnists like George F. Will and Colman McCarthy. And it may have helped Mark Shriver win a bride.

Love story

Shriver met Jeanne Ripp at a Holy Cross football game in the fall of 1990. She had graduated a year after he had. She was living in Boston at the time, working for Merrill Lynch. They bumped into each other the next day at a Boston Red Sox game, and had coffee a day later in Harvard Square. Shriver told her about The Choice Program, then 2 years old.

"I was intrigued," Jeanne Shriver says. "I was your typical post-college kid who was in business and learning lots but not really fulfilled. He was doing something that he had built himself, that was really worthwhile."

A few weeks later, Ripp visited Cherry Hill.

"Mark was in heaven. He was definitely in heaven," she says. "That's the kind of thing he loves. He loves being in the thick of things and organizing things and making it work."

The organization continues to thrive today though Shriver no longer has any connection with it.

For a full year, Shriver and Ripp carried on a long-distance relationship, visiting each other every weekend in Boston or New York or Baltimore. On the 53rd week of their relationship, they became engaged.

They spent their first year of married life in Boston, where Jeanne Shriver was working while Mark earned a master's degree from Harvard.

But it was understood that they would wind up in Maryland.

"He's a real Marylander," Tony Williams, now a TV weatherman in Los Angeles, says of his old friend. "He loves to go out to the Eastern Shore and hunt. His father is an old Marylander. A lot of people from around here identify with D.C. and Virginia. Mark loves Maryland."

Patriotic stuff. And perfect for a young man who was preparing to launch a political career.

Eye toward Annapolis

Shriver discussed running for the legislature with friends and family beginning in 1993.

"He was responding to his experience at Choice," says Philip S. Lee, a senior fellow at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs.

Despite his years living in Baltimore -- which included a stint as landlord and housemate of Martin O'Malley, the Baltimore councilman and likely next mayor -- Shriver chose to stake his political claim back in Montgomery County. He and Jeanne first moved in with his parents in Potomac, then settled into a large brick home near Montgomery Mall.

Lee -- Blair's brother, who happened to live in District 15 and had worked with Shriver on a variety of youth-related projects -- was the first person, after family and friends, the would-be candidate sought out for advice. He agreed to be campaign chairman.

Shriver spent the early months of 1994 talking to knowledgeable people around the county, state and district. Next, he hired a campaign manager: Stephen Neill, a first cousin of the Williams family, and also a Holy Cross graduate.

Shriver and his advisers decided that they would run an aggressive campaign, a campaign designed, in one supporter's words "to take the K out of his name and the silver spoon out of his mouth." Shriver went door to door for hours every day. So did his parents, and his wife.

"I think that blunted a lot of criticism that I expected to win and wasn't going to work for it," Shriver says.

By the time the campaign was over, Shriver had knocked on 20,000 doors throughout District 15, the largest legislative district geographically in the county, stretching from Potomac and Bethesda to Poolesville and Barnesville and represented by three delegates and one senator.

"I had people in my precinct that said, 'He doesn't have to come back anymore,'" says Daphne Bloomberg, a Democratic activist and early Shriver supporter.

Along the way, Shriver attracted a large and devoted band of volunteers -- though some undoubtedly came along to experience the latest Kennedy crusade.

"There's no question everybody's got curiosity," Phil Lee admits. "If you have a picnic at his mom and dad's house, some people just want to show up and check it out."

But Shriver, Lee says, did not try to capitalize on his celebrity.

"You didn't see Maria coming in here and John-John coming in here," he says. "He wanted to be elected on the substance. And happily, he had the substance."

The connections did help Shriver raise $190,000 for the campaign -- an astounding amount for a House of Delegates seat. And they did not shield him from criticism: That he was trying to buy the seat. That he was a carpetbagger who hadn't voted in the district. That he wasn't doing enough to help his Democratic running mates.

Shriver won easily, finishing first in both the Democratic primary and the general election. He was ready for Annapolis. But was Annapolis ready for him?

Accruing a record

In his first year in Annapolis, Shriver was assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee. So was another young scion of a prominent political family, Clarence Mitchell IV -- C4, to his friends and colleagues.

Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, chairwoman of the committee, says Shriver and Mitchell added a new element to the committee. Ways and Means colleagues called them "the news coverage guys."

"Curiosity is a good word," she says about the committee's early attitude toward Shriver. "They were looking at him to see if he was going to work, to see if he was going to show up, to see if he was going to get special treatment."

Shriver was teased mercilessly early on, Hixson recalls, when he asked questions that displayed a certain ignorance about farming.

"I eat pigs! I eat chickens!" she says he protested. The lawmakers laughed.

"He broke them down," she says. "He's such a good-natured guy."

But while colleagues give Shriver generally high marks for his committee work, he is the member of Ways and Means most likely to be out of his seat, conferring with colleagues in the hall or making telephone calls. The same is true of the weekly Montgomery County House delegation meetings. And because of who he is, these absences are probably noticed more than anyone else's.

"I freely admit that I get antsy," Shriver says. "There's always a lot of work going on [inside and outside the committee room]."

Colleagues also took note that Shriver never stayed after hours in Annapolis to drink or attend the myriad receptions that are dangled in front of legislators by special interests. For that, he is unapologetic.

"I want to be at home," he says.

Shriver did score a legislative coup in his first year: Using the state of Maine as a model, he convinced the state government to set up a program to suspend the driver's licenses of deadbeat parents who fall behind on their child support payments. The state has since recovered $103 million in previously unpaid child support, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening calls Shriver "the key person responsible for $100 million."

Shriver's work on the child support bill, most of it behind the scenes, has become his modus operandi.

Each year, he introduces a small number of bills. Each year, the bills have something to do with children and families. Each year, Shriver solicits the support of powerful lawmakers or state officials who can make a difference. And each year, Shriver drums up public support with well-placed op-ed articles in various newspapers.

"If he doesn't have the formula, who does?" asks Del. Richard A. La Vay (R-Dist. 15) of Germantown.

Shriver has passed bills that range from increasing victim restitution payments to giving tax credits to businesses for creating jobs.

Closer to home, he secured $350,000 in state funding for Hadley's Park, a unique playground in Potomac that is accessible to both handicapped and able-bodied children. He helped expedite state funding for a new bridge on Route 28 near Poolesville. He helped get funding for the new cultural arts center in Germantown.

Equally significant, Shriver has accomplished these things quietly and methodically. He does not pound the table. He rarely speaks on the House floor. He does not cash in on his celebrity -- at least not directly (though some jealous colleagues privately wonder whether his legislative success is in any way related to who he is).

"I prefer to do my work quietly," Shriver says. "I prefer not to raise a fuss about my work."

Shriver boasts that 20 percent of the bills in Speaker Taylor's legislative package in 1999 were his, and that 20 to 30 percent of Taylor's leadership bills in 2000 are likely to be his.

"I think that's just as important as getting your name in the paper," he says.

While Shriver does not necessarily carry leadership's water or toe the leadership line on every vote, he is careful to tell House leaders what he is doing and how he is voting on critical bills.

"I'm never surprised by what he does," Hixson says. "You can deal with most anything, as long as you're not blindsided."

And Hixson says Shriver is now well-liked by the rank and file.

"There is no one who says he's a rich little kid or snobbish or spoiled," she says. "He's played by the rules and done a good job."

Uneasiness in District 15

Plenty of folks back home have taken notice of Shriver's legislative successes.

"He focuses on the young people in our society and comes up with solutions that don't cost a fortune," says Bloomberg, the District 15 Democratic activist.

But Shriver is not universally admired at home or in Annapolis.

Susan Payne, a former Democratic precinct chairwoman who lives in Gaithersburg, says Shriver tends to ignore the upcounty portion of his district and concentrates on his wealthier constituents in and around Potomac.

"You never see him unless he's putting together what I call the Mark Shriver dog-and-pony show," says Payne, who lives close to Damascus, where residents frequently complain that government services are lacking.

At the beginning of each legislative session, Shriver holds four town meetings -- in Potomac, North Potomac, Poolesville and Germantown. But it is fair to say that other legislators who represent the upcounty (Districts 15 and 39) -- Del. Jean B. Cryor (R-Dist. 15) of Potomac, and Sens. Patrick J. Hogan (R-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village and Jean W. Roesser (R-Dist. 15) of Potomac -- are probably more visible there.

On a burning issue in the upcounty, the new county jail in Clarksburg, Cryor, La Vay, Hogan and Roesser have all been far more vocal in their opposition than Shriver, attending meetings and testifying against the project. Shriver says he expressed his opinions privately to Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, his cousin.

The District 15 legislative team, while hardly hostile, rarely works together. Shriver goes his own way, and the three Republicans go theirs.

The District 15 lawmakers insist that there is no animosity, that they have each co-sponsored the other's bills at times and worked together on occasion. But there is inevitable tension: Shriver was encouraged by Democratic leaders to challenge Roesser last year.

Last year's campaign

During the 1998 campaign, the charge resurfaced that Shriver was not doing enough to help his fellow Democrats. Anthony Patrick Puca, a Democratic candidate for the House in District 15 last year, says fliers were distributed around the district urging people to vote for Puca, Shriver and the third House candidate, David B. Dashefsky, but had only Shriver's name highlighted in pink.

"I'm going to reserve any comments on the Democratic Party in District 15 and its juxtaposition with Mark Shriver until I see what other Democrats in District 15 and Mark himself have to say about it," Puca says.

Others defend Shriver and say he did plenty to help the party last year.

Dashefsky, who was 22 when he launched his campaign, says Shriver grilled him about the district and his plans when he first went to him for advice and support, and was skeptical about his prospects. But Dashefsky quickly impressed the experts and almost beat La Vay.

"Once the threshold of credibility was reached, he did everything he could," Dashefsky says of Shriver.

George L. Leventhal, the Montgomery County Democratic chairman, says party leaders figured Shriver was the only Democrat who could win in District 15, but their opinions have changed thanks to strong showings by Dashefsky and others and the help they received from Shriver.

"We see 15 now as a huge target of opportunity," Leventhal says.

What's next?

The question is how long Shriver will stick around, and what, if anything, he wants to do next.

Shriver and friends insist he is in no hurry, that he has no timetable for moving up, that he does not hunger for higher office.

A race for Congress in 2000? Not going to happen.

"I think Connie Morella would be tough to beat," Shriver says of the entrenched seven-term Republican incumbent. "I do think that the right candidate with the right message could be successful."

But while Shriver says, "I would never say never," he says he is also determined to "stay focused on my legislative work."

Shriver has other considerations. He and Jeanne have an 18-month-old daughter, Molly, and a second child is due later this fall. The timing for an intensive congressional race -- which would likely include a bruising primary against the Democrats' 1998 nominee, Ralph G. Neas, right in the middle of the legislative session -- may not be right.

Shriver also is unemployed at the moment. After entering the legislature, he resigned from The Choice Program and went to work for LCI International, a telecommunications company, managing its local service division. The man who headed LCI was an early contributor to Shriver's nonprofit agency.

Late last year, Shriver left the company to start his own Internet marketing venture. But the test results were disappointing, and he and his financial backers pulled the plug. Shriver is now talking to telecommunications companies and foundations about possible work.

"It's very difficult," he says about the job-hunting, a typical legislator's lament. "People expect you to work for them 12 months a year...There's a lot of tension. It can be very trying."

Shriver says, contrary to popular belief, he does not possess a giant trust fund and is unable to stay unemployed for long.

The assumption among many Montgomery County Democrats is that Shriver would be the front runner for any political office he decides to seek. Don't forget that K in his name.

"He's handsome, smart and capable, and he comes from a distinguished American political family," George Leventhal says. "It's all part of the package. You can't separate them. It's who he is."

But some potential opponents refuse to concede that a Shriver candidacy automatically translates into a Shriver victory.

"I think it's too speculative at this point," says state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, another young lawmaker considered a likely candidate for higher office in the not-too-distant future. "A lot of things can happen."

Some political observers believe Shriver's fate could be tied to Townsend, who is expected to run for governor in 2002.

Townsend's election as governor, says Del Ali, president of Research 2000 Inc. in Rockville, "could be an asset for Shriver. But it's risky in this sense: If she flops and they're running together, it could hurt him."

Sometimes, it seems, people are more interested in what Shriver is doing than Shriver himself.

"He solicits advice from a lot of people, but people offer it more often than they solicit it," says Neill, his two-time campaign manager.

Yes, Shriver says, some day he may run for Congress, or county executive, or something else. But he says he would consider leaving public office to run a nonprofit organization or an entrepreneurial company that is creating jobs.

"I don't wake up at night after having dreamt about being a member of Congress," he says.

Neill, who now raises money for the Special Olympics, says Shriver might just decide to stay put.

"If staying in the House of Delegates is the best situation for his family, it's something he would do for the rest of his life," Neill says.

But Tony Williams, Shriver's old friend, says "I'd be surprised if he leaves politics anytime soon. I think he's too happy with it and too successful at it. Running for election is nothing new to him or his family. They get it. He gets it. Nobody knows how to do it better. He enjoys it. Everybody enjoys doing things they're really good at, and he's really good at this."

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