Union Tribune

October 9, 2003

Maria Shriver has her own star power


LOS ANGELES She wanted to marry a man who would take her as far as possible from politics.

Instead, she picked a husband who put her smack in the thick of it. Now that Maria Shriver is to become California's first lady, one is tempted to make comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis the glamour, the youth, the link to "Kennedy royalty."

But there are substantive differences between Shriver and the woman who was the nation's first lady when John F. Kennedy, Shriver's uncle, was president.

Perhaps most notably, Shriver has said she intends to continue her career as a journalist for NBC, a job she left temporarily so she could campaign during the recall election with her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Probably for the first time, we're getting a first lady who has her own independent source of public standing," said Mark Petracca, a political science professor at the University of California Irvine.

Born in Chicago and educated at Georgetown University, the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, grew up as part of the country's most prominent political family.

She and her four brothers were surrounded by media attention. They lost two uncles to assassination and watched Kennedy women handle accusations of sexual improprieties by their husbands.

Shriver's political instincts served her well last week after sexual-misconduct allegations swirled around her husband of 17 years.

"Especially during the last five or six days of the campaign, Maria earned her Ph.D in Kennedy family politics," Petracca said. "It was really classy to stand up for him in such a matter-of-fact way that didn't call further attention (to the allegations)."

During the recall campaign, Shriver, 47, told Oprah Winfrey that she was wary about her husband joining the race, saying, "I tried to find somebody who would take me as far away from the political world as I possibly could."

So it is not surprising that the person who needed the most convincing about Schwarzenegger's run for governor was his wife.

Shriver's influence on Schwarzenegger is said to be profound. She has helped him pick movie scripts and agents. And her lifelong Democratic leanings not to mention her relatives have softened the governor-elect's Republicanism.

Shriver's parents reportedly worked hard to educate their son-in-law on issues the Kennedys care about. Today, Schwarzenegger supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun controls.

At a news conference yesterday, Schwarzenegger said Shriver "will be working very hard as the first lady, and at the same time I'm encouraging her to go back to her journalistic profession."

"I know it made her always very happy," he said of his wife's job. "I want her to continue with that, but at the same time, be first lady and work for the state."

Shriver's journalism career began with low-level jobs at television stations in Baltimore and Philadelphia. She worked for a syndicated show, "PM Magazine," before signing on as co-anchor of the "CBS Morning News."

She then served as a substitute anchor on the "Today" show before becoming a part-time "Dateline" correspondent so she could raise her four children Katherine, 13; Christina, 12; Patrick, 9; and Christopher, 5.

"She's a Kennedy, a national media correspondent and famous in her own right," said John Ormond, co-writer of the book, "Celebrity Politics."

"She brings as much celebrity star power to this relationship as Arnold does. . . . and I certainly say she brings a lot of glamour to the table."