Dr. and Mrs. Popularly Elected First Family; don’t bring up the Patakis; biotechnology can be fun!; Schiff likes Giff
Karenna Gore Schiff’s ears peek out from between the strands of her flaxen hair; she, 30 years old, fixes the irregularity. Her husband, Andrew, 38, a former physician turned biotech venture capitalist, isn’t here. He is a private man and doesn’t court publicity. She is awfully unassuming for someone who seems to be involved in every charitable organization in the city, graduated from Columbia Law School, received a $200,000 advance from Miramax Books and has been near the forefront of national politics for years.
“I think that Pataki has short-changed the city,” Mrs. Schiff said over a Caesar salad. “I think that by supporting the Bush administration, he has done harm to some of the things that I care about. So I would hope that he is defeated-or doesn’t run-next time.”
The disappointment in Governor Pataki is understandable. The Schiffs, whether spending time in Central Park with their two children (Wyatt and Anna), scampering around museums or scatting to Wynton Marsalis, feel the ripples of city policy on a very personal level: both, in their nonprofit ventures, and he, working in an industry at the whim of governmental regulation.
Born and raised on the Upper East Side (where his family has resided for “generations”), Dr. Schiff comes from a family that is essentially nonpartisan, although they have, said Mrs. Schiff, tended to vote Republican.
Dr. Andrew (Drew) Schiff is a managing director at Perseus-Soros BioPharmaceutical Fund, which makes investments-in the $10 million to $50 million range-in the biotechnology sector. On the side, he also sits on the board at Henry Street Settlement, a charity that sponsors a community mental-health clinic, a battered women’s shelter, and many other initiatives and centers.
Mrs. Schiff is the head of the advocacy committee for Sanctuary for Families and the director of community affairs for the Association to Benefit Children.
As with most dividend-yielding partnerships, theirs is symbiotic.
“He’s been really helpful to me in learning how a nonprofit works, so we do talk about that kind of stuff,” said Mrs. Schiff. “It’s true that I can’t get quite as excited about finance as he does, but I try. But he likes to talk politics, too. He’s been around the city for a long time-he knows a lot of the players better than I do in city politics.
“I think that he’s basically enamored of biotechnology. He loves combining his medical experience with his interest in business-investing in companies that are trying to make medicines for cancer and heart disease and children’s diseases,” Mrs. Schiff continued. “It’s definitely something that excites him. So my guess is that he’ll stay with it, but he’s always been somebody who likes to change and learn and do new things.” She added, “He may decide to go to architecture school next year, knowing Drew.”
In spite of the inescapable connection-her dad is President-elect-forever Al, her mom the well-kissed Tipper-Mrs. Schiff admits that she’s not an “expert” on city politics, but she’s awfully connected. She supported Gifford Miller (“His wife is fantastic, by the way”), Jonathan Bing and Liz Krueger.
“It’s true what Tip O’Neill said: All politics is local,” Mrs. Schiff said. “And so, in a sense, whenever you start at a local level, you can gain a lot of experience and understanding. I’ve campaigned for Liz Krueger for State Senator-shaken-hands-in-the-subway kind of thing-so I suppose that’s one way I’ve been involved, in a local sense. But I’m also very much interested in national politics, I guess, because for so much of my life I was in that milieu.”
It’s not all business with the Schiffs: When venturing out from their East 66th Street residence, they go to the Met, attend the opera and frequent jazz concerts at Lincoln Center. “Wynton Marsalis is amazing,” said Mrs. Schiff. “They have this great ‘Jazz for Kids’ thing that we take our kids to sometimes. He’s hilarious. It’s only an hour, and that’s great, because that’s about my attention span, too.”
At a glance, the Schiffs are absurdly accomplished. Gretchen Buchenholz, the executive director and founder of the Association to Benefit Children, goes so far as to say, “They’re really present . They belong in this cosmopolis.” But of the two, Dr. Schiff is more detail-oriented.
“One thing we don’t have in common is that he plans in advance much more than I do. He’s probably already done his Christmas shopping, and I’ll do it the last week,” said Mrs. Schiff. “The thing is, when you’re married to someone who is that organized, and better at planning, sometimes you get worse. Because there’s that safety net.” Mrs. Schiff said that she and Dr. Schiff are obsessed with e-mailing each other on their Blackberrys. “Sometimes we’re even in the same room,” she said. “We call it ‘the Crackberry.’”
-Elon R. Green