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.
CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
Last year, as Mayor Hickenlooper's chief of staff, Brough went into budget negotiations with union officials representing the city's firefighters, set down a jar of Vaseline, and said, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way." The prop was a joke meant to break the ice, but Brough (whose name rhymes with "rough") wasn't entirely kidding. This no-nonsense powerhouse had wowed Mayor Hickenlooper so much that he hired her to be his deputy chief of staff after she ran his opponent's campaign. During her four-year tenure, she rose to chief of staff and orchestrated Hick's agenda, helping him win a second term with an astounding 87 percent of the vote. Her ascension to the head of the chamber of commerce was something of an upset: Despite her wealth of political chops, she did not have the private sector business pedigrees of her predecessors. A new perspective may help see the chamber through the recession.
The Liberals' Dynamic Duo
Stryker's checkbook and Yates' political acumen, together, have been instrumental in swinging Colorado from red to blue. A retired president of Colorado State University, Yates has become the point person for wealthy Colorado liberals looking to nudge political races. The reclusive Stryker is his biggest source of cash. While Stryker may have lost a third of her net worth last year—the share price the Stryker Corporation, a medical supply company, is down 30 percent—she's still worth $1.4 billion. In 2008, she was the 16th-largest political donor in the country, giving nearly $1 million to liberal causes and politically active 527 organizations.
Owner, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Rapids, and Mammoth
Melo's boss is a multibillionaire entrepreneur (married to Wal-Mart heir Ann Walton) whose sports business and entertainment empire has made his interests the community's interest, and vice versa. (Kroenke also has a stake in American football's St. Louis Rams and English football powerhouse Arsenal.) As owner of the Colorado Rapids and Dick's Sporting Goods Park, he's helped revive and sustain interest in professional soccer in the U.S.—no small task. And to top it off, in 2004 he founded Altitude Sports and Entertainment to broadcast all his teams, so he controls the medium and the message. Melo may be his franchise player, but make no mistake: Kroenke's the franchise.
(The) Denver Nugget
Denver has had flings with past Nuggets teams, from David Thompson's ABA refugees in the '70s to Dikembe Mutombo's surprise conference finalists in 1994. Thanks to Melo, local hoops fans are finally falling in love. With the help of veteran sidekick Chauncey Billups, Anthony has elevated his team to elite status—making Nuggets games the most coveted ticket this side of Invesco Field—while becoming what some now call the most complete offensive force in the NBA. Still only 25 years old, Anthony is beginning to make Denver sports fans almost as passionate about hoops as they are about football.
CEO/President, Sage Hospitality
For the past 25 years, Isenberg and Sage cofounder Zack Neumeyer have presided over Sage's expanding hotel empire, which now controls almost 50 properties in more than 20 states, including Denver's Curtis, Oxford, and JW Marriott (which has a Second Home bar/restaurant that has become a late-night hotspot to watch cougars hunt players). Isenberg serves on the board of such prominent Front Range organizations as the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Children's Hospital Foundation—and is one of the Colorado Concern(ed). As the economy recovers, look for Isenberg to buy and manage distressed properties, particularly in and around downtown Denver, which will broaden his already considerable influence, both in his businesses and in his philanthropy.
Attorney, Medical Marijuana Advocate
No local story has grabbed more recent headlines than medical marijuana, and Corry—a libertarian Republican—is at the center. He's the go-to lawyer for medical marijuana supporters, representing dozens of dispensaries around the state and regularly squaring off against Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and others. With taxation guidelines now being established, medical marijuana could become one of Colorado's most prominent—wait for it—growth industries in an otherwise stagnant economy, and the always-quotable Corry will be leading the charge.
Superintendent, Denver Public Schools
Boasberg, the man charged with carrying on the reforms of his former boss, Michael Bennet, stumbled out of the gate when his candidates for the DPS Board of Education failed at the polls in November. The winners, supported by the teachers' union, aren't fans of the charter schools that Boasberg and Bennet have pushed. And the fact that the new board met at the pricey Broadmoor Hotel for a team-building "therapy session" on the taxpayers' dime was not an auspicious start. Still, many politicos have faith that he'll be able to sway the new union-backed board with logic—and numbers—that show the reforms are working. "Boasberg is on the right side of the issues," says one politician. "He has the power to lead the district that leads the state, and the ability to get reforms done."
Partner, Hogan & Hartson
Trimpa is the firm's point man in and around the Legislature. Before the election last year, Trimpa negotiated with unions and the business community to make sure that four anti-business ballot measures—ones that unions had put forward after a tiff—would be torpedoed. Trimpa advises multimillionaire Tim Gill, investing Gill's millions in advancing gay-rights causes and supportive candidates at the ballot box.
Chancellor, Colorado State University
During his decade-long run as the head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Blake was a voice of moderation in the business community, moving the tax-reluctant group to help support both FasTracks and Referendum C. Still, it was a bit of a surprise that Governor Ritter would appoint the Republican Blake to helm CSU, placing two Republicans in charge of Colorado's higher-education system (along with CU president Bruce Benson). Blake's selection speaks to his clout on both sides of the aisle.
CEO/Chairman, Venoco Inc.
The Denver native and Colorado School of Mines graduate moved his California-based oil and gas company—from which he was once ousted, only to return, Steve Jobs-like—back to his hometown in 2005. Since then, he's become a major player in philanthropy. After Venoco had a $212 million IPO in 2006, Marquez donated $50 million to set up the Denver Scholarship Fund, which matches college scholarships for graduating Denver high school students.