"Karenna has done a fantastic job this part year balancing marriage, motherhood, law school and working on her father's campaign. Al and I are very proud of her." Tipper Gore
ONCE UPON A TIME, KARENNA GORE Schiff was a vice-president herselfof student government at the exclusive, all-girls National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. To raise money for the winter formal, Karenna and her friend Lucy Martin McBride, the student-government president, came up with the Kiss-a-Pig Contest. The girls placed gallon-sized plastic mayonnaise jars around the cafeteria with pictures of teachers taped to them. The teacher whose jar filled up the fastest (the very old and very shy English teacher, Miss Griffiths) had to kiss a pig in front of the entire student body and faculty. Karenna and Lucy drove out to a farm in Virginia in the Gores' wood-paneled minivan and picked up a little pink piglet that squealed in the backseat all the way home.
At the Gores' suburban Virginia home, then-Senator Al and wife Tipper rushed outside to meet the minivan. Everyone was excitedincluding, as it turned out, the pig. What happened next became Gore family mythology. "When Karenna got the pig out and stood it up on its hind legs to say "Look what I have,' " says McBride, now a resident in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, "it peed all over Al's shoes!"
Just a typical day in the life of those wacky Gores, who even referred to themselves as the Griswolds (that hapless family of Vacation movie fame). But growing up, Karenna had a love-hate relationship with her name and the privilege and responsibility that went with it. She chopped off her hair, wore all-black outfits decorated with safety pins, sneaked up to the roof to drink and smoke, and shrilly contested parental impositiononce taking off with friends, leaving nothing but a cryptic note ("We left") scrawled on the kitchen table in squeezed margarine. Maybe it was almost predictableKarenna was jamming to hard-core bands like Fugazi and the Holy Rollers in Dupont Circle while her mother was publicly advocating against rock lyrics. "Karenna pushed the limits," says Maggie Pushkar, a Wall Street trader and Schiff's friend since the seventh grade. "She wasn't afraid to break down walls."
For a time, it was difficult to figure out exactly where Karenna was going, which makes it all the more remarkable to see how she has arrived. Today, that fire inside hasn't gone out but warms a cool and professional political persona. At 27, Karenna Gore SchiffHarvard and Columbia Law School graduate, wife of 34-year-old Andrew Schiff, a primary-care physician at New York Hospital, and mother of 1-year-old Wyatt, born, fittingly, on July 4advises her father on campaign strategy, speaks coast to coast on his behalf and serves as the national chair of GoreNet, a program dedicated to increasing young-voter turnout (algore2000.com).
"Giving birth, working on the campaign and completing law school. all at the same timethat's pretty extraordinary," says Hank Gutman, an attorney at the corporate law firm Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett, where Schiff worked as a summer associate in 1998. Says Pushkar, "I sometimes look at Karenna as this über-woman."
SCHIFF IS SITTING AT A QUIET TABLE in the back of a near-empty cafe a block from her Upper East Side apartment, chatting over a bagel with honey and an iced coffee about politics, her family and her life. Her eyes sparkle, but her fingernails are bitten down to the quickher only physical aspect that isn't polished. She may be a keenly capable multi-tasker with not a wisp of blond hair out of place, but she can also be a twentysomething with a nervous habit and no time for a manicure. "She's stressed out a lot," says Tipper Gore. "I mean, something has to give."
When asked how she manages to do it all, Schiff demurs. "Ummm, first of all, I'm definitely not the only woman in America doing it," she says. "I see single mothers who are working two jobs and trying to get a degree. There are people accomplishing Herculean juggling feats. I'm definitely aware that I'm in a privileged situation. I have a supportive husband, a great nanny who can be there when I'm not and flexible hours, and I'm not struggling to make ends meet, by any means. But I do feel like I have a little taste of what other women are going through."
Schiff speaks often about the importance of day care and her commitment to it as an issue. Since becoming a parent, she says, "l feel like some chemical change has happened in my body, because when I hear stories on the news about babies needing protection or being hurt in any way I start sobbing, and I never did that before."
Some friends were surprised at first that the free-spirited Karenna took the marriage-and-motherhood plunge at such a young age. "She's the first in our group of friends from college to have a kid," says Carrie Klotz, an advertising-agency account supervisor and Schiff's roommate for three years at Harvard. "She's four life stages ahead of the rest of us. I was living in a dorm room with her five years ago, and now she has all this responsibility. But she's the same person."
BORN ON AUGUST 6, 1973, IN Nashville, Karenna was the first of Al and Tipper's four children. Kristin, 23, is a comedy writer in Los Angeles; Sarah, 21, is restoring art in St Petersburg, Russia, before beginning her final year at Harvard; and Albert, 17, who's working this summer at SpeakOut.com, an online political-opinion forum, will be a senior in the fall at Sidwell Friends high school in Washington, D.C.
When Al Gore was elected to Congress in 1976, the family moved to the D.C. area. But nearly all vacations were spent on the stately family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, where the Goresheaded by the late Senator Al Gore Sr.were considered landed gentry and political groundbreakers. "My grandmother Pauline was the only woman in her law school class at Vanderbilt in 1938," says Schiff. "Even when people told her she shouldn't be in a 'man's profession,' she stood for equal rights and followed her dream. My grandfather Albert stood for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. He was proud that he never compromised his beliefs. And my dad has always encouraged me to speak my mind, a lesson that has been as important in the school cafeteria as in politics."
At Harvard Karenna majored in the interdisciplinary history and literature honors program and wrote her thesis on the slave narratives project of the Works Progress Administration. And she sought out diversity in companions as well as ideas. "I had friends across the spectrumjocks, nerds, punks," she recalls. "I really enjoyed mixing it up, and I still do." Around campus she could be seen wearing Indian-print skirts, hanging out on the green with her dreadlocked, wheat-grass-drinking, football-player boyfriend. "I definitely let my hair down in college," Schiff chuckles. "I remember a lot of spur-of-the-moment 2 A.M. decisions, like going to the Foxwoods Casino just to check it out. Not a good decision, by the way."
But whatever she did, Karenna was reminded of who her parents were. "I'd be telling a story about my mom, and people would say, 'Oh, you mean Tipper,'" Schiff says. "I'd be taken aback. I just didn't like the way it felt, to be anchored to my identity like that."
After graduation in 1995, Karenna cut loose from her Gore identity temporarily and headed off to Spainusing her middle name, Aitcheson, her mother's maiden nameto work as an intern at El Pais newspaper in Madrid for a year. It was during this time that her self-professed "sappy patriot" side began to flourish. "At the time, Spain was debating about transitioning to a jury system, and it was during the O.J. Simpson trial, so a lot of people were talking about race and democracy in America," says Schiff. "There were so many dinners where I got to pretend I was Thomas Jefferson, talking about the virtues of having Americans judge themselves. I loved that feeling."
Upon her return to the States, Karenna moved to Seattle to work as an editorial assistant at the online magazine Slate. While there, she wrote numerous articles, among them a funny, frank diary about her experiences during the second Clinton-Gore inaugural festivities in January 1997: "The least I could do is come up with a better Secret Service code name," she wrote. "Ever since four years ago, when I was put on the spot and told 'two syllables' and 'It has to start with an s,' I have been cringing in the back seat when identified as 'Smurfette.' "
Slate's chief political correspondent, Jacob Weisberg, known for his critical campaign commentary, turns effusive when talking about Schiff. "She's smart as a whip, has a great sense of fun and is capable of thinking like a journalistwhich is no small skill for someone in politics," he says. "If nepotism played a small part in her getting the job, it quickly became clear that she more than could have gotten it with a different last name."
A different last name would come soon enough. Shortly after being set up with Andrew Schiff by mutual friend Chris Downey, the wife of former congressman Tom Downey, at a dinner party, she relocated to Slate's New York office to be near the young doctor. Although Karenna's future husband was from a line of affluent German Jews tracing back to King Solomon, he was raised Episcopalian. And though his familyfrom his great-great-grandfather nineteenth-century banker Jacob Schiff on downwas largely Republican, Andrew, moved by such issues as handgun control and a woman's right to choose abortion, defected at age 26 to the Democratic Party.
Nine months after they met, Karenna Aitcheson Gore. dressed in a Vera Wang gown and carrying a bouquet of white Virginia roses, and Andrew Newman Schiff were married at Washington's National Cathedralwhere her parents had exchanged their vows 27 years earlier. The summer sun streamed in through the neo-Gothic church's stained-glass windows as Aretha Franklin sang an operatic aria. Three hundred guests attended the ceremony"We wanted it to be small, and that's what we got away with," Karenna laughs.
"When Karenna came walking back down the aisle, the smile could not fit on her face," says college friend Jesse Angelo, the deputy business editor of the New York Post. "She looked like she was about to burst with sunshine."
The reception was held outside the vice-president's white Victorian mansion, under an air-conditioned tent on the sprawling grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Friend McBride gave a toast telling about the time when the two girls accidentally set their room on fire at lacrosse camp when they were 15. Harvard roommate Kate Solomon remarked on how fitting it was that Karenna, a chronic hypochondriac, was marrying a doctor. The bride and her father danced to "The Tennessee Waltz."
OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS, Karenna Gore Schiff's life is only going to get busier. She is involved in a fundraising concert for the Democratic National Committee at Radio City Music Hall on September 14, featuring performances by Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler, Macy Gray and others. After the Democratic convention at the Staples Center in Los Angeleswhere she officially nominated her father for president on August 16Schiff will travel around the country in a series of bus trips that she has organized.
Being out campaigning may mean fewer afternoons at the park with Wyatt. but Schiff brought him along to the convention, and she says that she is working for the sake of his future as much as anything else: "I really feel that the kind of world my son grows up in will be impacted by this election."
Those close to Schiff say that she is in awe of her son and the way he is transforming her life. "It's been so wonderful to see Karenna become a mother to Wyatt." grandmother Tipper says. The first grandchild seems to have brought her even closer to her father as well.
"My dad was there this morning playing with Wyatt, and it's so sweet to watch," Schiff gushes as she pops a last piece of bagel into her mouth, describing the man who would be commander-in-chief sitting on the floor doing puppet shows for his grandson. "I understand now why my dad said our grandparents spoiled us so much. Wyatt's crying and I say, 'He's in a bad mood,' and my dad says"she adopts a syrupy tone of voice"'Oh, that's OK! Sometimes I'm in a bad mood, too! No problem!' I can just see him now" 'Ice cream for breakfast! Candy for lunch! Anything you want!'" Karenna laughs at the thought, swings her bag over her shoulder and heads home to see her son.