The 5280 Fifty
We rank the Mile High City's most influential powerbrokers in our primer on who's running Denver. Plus: A look at whose stars are rising—and whose stock is plummeting.
President/Founder, The Kenney Group
A pugnacious lobbyist, Kenney is the man who solves problems for Democrats in Denver— nicely, if that'll work; not so nicely, if required. "Sometimes," says a highly placed elected official, "David has to be reined in. But that's part of what makes him so effective." He has the ears of every powerful liberal, including Governor Ritter, Senators Udall and Bennet, and Mayor Hickenlooper. Kenney was influential in getting Bennet appointed, and helped nudge along the process at the end of 2008 that placed Kelly Brough (former Hickenlooper chief of staff) at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and made the former chamber boss, Joe Blake (a Republican), chancellor of Colorado State University.
Billionaire and arch conservative Anschutz has one of the most recognized names in Denver and yet is so publicity-shy that his legal name might be "The Reclusive Phil Anschutz." His calculated avoidance of the spotlight, however, belies his backroom activism. When Josh Penry dropped out of the GOP primary race for governor, it seemed half the people in Denver politics believed it was because Anschutz was playing puppet master, while the other half denied he would involve himself in such matters. Regardless, the specter of Anschutz loomed large. His entertainment and media properties, and his philanthropic efforts, have long promoted his favorite conservative-themed causes (and his recent purchases of the right-leaning Weekly Standard and Washington Examiner give a more prominent voice to his crusades). Even though he never airs his views publicly, he has an extremely persuasive prominence among Colorado's political strategists. Every September 1, Anschutz hosts a dove hunt and dinner with a guest list that includes virtually anyone who matters in business as well as politicians from both sides of the aisle. (Democrat Hickenlooper spoke at this year's dinner.)
President, University of Colorado
State Democrats were upset when Bruce Benson, a former GOP state chairman and perpetual power broker, was chosen to head up Colorado's public higher-education system in 2008. CU-Boulder's notoriously liberal Faculty Assembly voted against his appointment 40-4. Puhleeeze. Evidently the academics didn't fully grasp the extracurricular realities of who Benson is: He made millions in oil and has won over many of his critics for going to bat for education amid budget cuts. Days after state legislators decided to cut funding for Metropolitan State College's new multimillion-dollar science building—with a hole for the building already dug—Benson had the construction back on track after meeting with state reps and the governor.
Chief Operating Officer, State of Colorado
Seven billion dollars: That's Colorado's stimulus allotment from the Obama administration, and Elliman is the man who tracks it. After three decades as a publishing honcho at Time Inc., Elliman relocated to Denver in 2000, where he took an executive role at Kroenke Sports Enterprises. Governor Ritter hired Elliman out of semi-retirement in 2007 to head the state's economic development office, and last summer Ritter created the position of state COO with Elliman in mind. Elliman's hiring, in large part, was inspired by voices from the biz community who felt that the governor didn't understand private-sector concerns.
Chairman/CEO, MDC Holdings Inc.
Whenever there's been a hush-hush meeting about the future of the GOP or the business interests of the Front Range, chances are Mizel's agenda was in the room, even if he wasn't. He's run the multibillion-dollar MDC for almost 30 years, developing homes all over the Front Range. He also cofounded the Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the world's foremost human-rights organizations. Like Benson and Anschutz, Mizel has major sway over statewide strategy as Republicans try to get their mojo back in 2010. Yet, make no mistake, he's a businessman and his power transcends party: At the 2009 Allied Jewish Federation Men's Event in November, Mizel gave a warm introduction to Senator Bennet that could have been read as something of an endorsement. What's telling about that, says a muckety-muck who was in the audience, is that while Bennet has Jewish ancestry, he was not raised in the faith; what's more, Bennet, of course, is a Dem.
Speaker of the House
Since taking the reins of the Statehouse from Romanoff at the beginning of 2009—and becoming Colorado's first African-American speaker of the House—Carroll has presided over difficult times. Yet unlike Ritter, and despite (or perhaps because of) the tight purse strings, Mr. Speaker has rendered himself a critical and respected negotiator. He's deftly managed committee chairmen and legislators to keep the House moving, and, when needed, delivered a smackdown—like when he filleted state Senate minority leader Josh Penry for criticizing the governor's energy office: "The new energy economy is the single brightest light in our economy," Carroll wrote. "Killing jobs in our fastest-growing economic sector is Penry's answer to the serious crisis facing Colorado?"
A finalist for Salazar's open Senate seat, the congressman was passed over in large part because the state Democratic establishment respects and needs him as a congressman. Perlmutter represents the cities and counties that circle Denver, a hotly contested congressional district that has one of the most even Democratic/Republican splits in the country, and Perlmutter's hold on his seat is perceived as formidable, and thus invaluable to the larger machine. Power players cite Perlmutter as efficient and effective—one told us, "He's the guy you call when you need to get something done." But he still may have a bit to learn about statesmanship: After receiving $9,500 in campaign funds from telecommunication companies, Perlmutter started opposing the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules, which would prevent Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to some content.
Editor, Denver Post
Under Moore's editorial guidance (and his boss Dean Singleton's iron-fisted leadership), the Post emerged last year as Denver's last daily newspaper, or, at the very least, the leading daily newspaper (considering the Denver Daily News). Moore's tenure at the Post began in 2002, and in his first week on the job the Hayman fire, the largest in Colorado history, began to burn almost 140,000 acres, becoming one of the biggest local stories of the decade. It was a fitting introduction: The subsequent seven years have proved equally feverish for the Post—and the newspaper industry in general. By hiring some of the Rocky's most accomplished journalists after it closed, Moore is as close as he'll ever be to having the kind of talented staff that can help redefine newsgathering at a time when the craft desperately needs a makeover.
President/CEO, Denver Broncos
This city lives and dies with the Broncos, a reality that puts Bowlen in charge of no small amount of civic happiness (and dollars). Not long ago, he seemed too wedded to a bygone era, yet in the past 12 months he has proved surprisingly open-minded and nimble. He recognized the Broncos' recent doldrums and fired his presumptive coach-for-life Mike Shanahan (though one should only be so lucky as to get fired with Shanahan's buyout), replacing him with the ludicrously young Josh McDaniels. Bowlen then showed everyone who was boss by jettisoning the petulant Jay Cutler. The Broncos' tumultuous, unexpected revival has been one of the NFL's feel-good stories of 2009, reminding everyone which team sits atop the local sports throne.
He's an heir to the TCI cable company fortune. She's an heir to the Celestial Seasonings tea riches. Together they invested $12 million in personal funds in a film project that had no business succeeding: Precious, the adaptation of a novel about an overweight, impoverished, African-American teenage mother who had been sexually abused by her own parents. The movie had all the hallmarks of a noble, naïve failure by a Denver rich couple who should have known better. Except that this Denver rich couple knew better than anyone else, or didn't care. And the executive-producing instincts of the Magnesses have paid off with stellar reviews and big-time Oscar buzz (and potential multiple nominations) for the film. With the endorsement of entertainment titan Oprah, the Magnesses have inked a distribution deal with Lionsgate and are already lining up their next project, based on the Judy Moody children's books. More than Don Cheadle and Jessica Biel combined, the Magnesses have put Denver, along with the Denver Film Festival, on Hollywood's map.