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.
Principal Investigator, MAVEN Project, CU-Boulder
The lead investigator of the $485 million MAVEN project (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN), Jakosky oversees the largest research contract in CU's history. He and his team will spend several years building a spacecraft that may finally answer the question of whether there ever was life on Mars. Scheduled to launch in late 2013, MAVEN will explore the red planet's atmosphere. Jakosky operates in a whole other universe.
Senior Adviser, Vestar Capital Partners
Before the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Peña endorsed Barack Obama, over Hillary Clinton. For the Clintons, the defection was traitorous: Peña had served in the Clinton Cabinet for five years, as secretary of both transportation and energy. Peña, a former Denver mayor, served as Obama's national campaign cochair and on the transition team. During a trip that Mayor Hickenlooper made to D.C. last February, Peña brokered a 45-minute private sit-down with then-newly installed secretary of transportation Ray LaHood.
One of the newest state senators, Johnston has two rare assets for a freshman: real-world experience and connections. While he was the cofounder and principal of the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, he started advising then-presidential candidate Obama on education issues. In May, after state Senate president (and African-American) Peter Groff ascended to the Obama administration, Johnston—a young white man without political experience—replaced Groff as the representative of the ethnically diverse district.
Chief Scientist/Chairman, Rocky Mountain Institute
If the U.S. ever overcomes its addiction to foreign oil, Lovins will be one of the first people to thank for it. For the past quarter century, he's helmed RMI with the unofficial philosophy that "elegant frugality speaks for itself." Does it ever. Lovins' genius has helped save countless millions of dollars through improved energy efficiency for companies and organizations worldwide, from Wal-Mart to the Pentagon. His own prolific output—he's authored 29 books on environmental topics—has made him must-have counsel to CEOs and world leaders alike. As the energy industry evolves through the 21st century, Lovins' fingerprints figure to be all over the blueprint.
In a city aggressively trying to up its rep as a foodie paradise, Morreale has turned several seemingly modest venues into the type of places where Denver's hipsters and elite alike mingle to see and be seen. His Mezcal, Tambien, and La Rumba hosted some of the Democratic National Convention's hottest parties—including those fronted by the Creative Coalition, one of the entertainment industry's most influential nonprofit advocacy groups—and his revamping of a once-seedy Colfax property into the hipster-friendly Rockbar showed that Morreale is a hit with the youngsters too. All this successful hustling has raised his national profile, and the town's too.
President/Cofounder, Namasté Solar
This solar-powered entrepreneur became the poster boy for the new (alternative) power generation last February, when he spoke along with President Obama and VP Joe Biden at the signing of the stimulus package at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Since founding his solar-panel installation company in 2005, he's planted panels at the homes of Senator Udall, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and the governor's mansion. Jones has been a vocal advocate for increased funding to Colorado renewable energy businesses, and recently opened a new Denver office. Imagine that—an expanding business.
Chairman/President/CEO, Xcel Energy
Although Xcel Energy is based in Minneapolis, Denver native Kelly will factor into just about every change (desired or actual) to Colorado's energy economy in the coming months and years—like, say, adding much-needed solar, wind, or biomass power to the grid. Kelly spends the workweek in Minneapolis and weekends with his family at home in the Denver area. Warming to renewable energy and environmentally friendly technologies, in October he announced that Xcel planned to add about 1,300 megawatts of solar and wind energy to its system, including more than 250 megawatts from solar panels on customer's homes—more than three times the amount of solar power the company is required by law to add by 2020.
Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Art, public and private, is the soul of any community, and Lerner is one of the foremost visionaries charged with keeping Denver's creative class vibrant. The founder of the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar ascended to his current position when the Lab merged with MCA in February 2009. Under Lerner, MCA has continued to distinguish itself as a renowned repository for and promoter of modern art, with daring exhibits (Damien Hirst, anyone?) and creative educational programs that attract notable artists from around the world.
Directors, Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biology
Behind Leinwand and Cech, the latter of whom won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1989, this interdisciplinary research center at CU-Boulder is developing a more collaborative environment for scientific and medical discovery. First opened in 2003, CIMB eventually will house more than 20 laboratories for departments including mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and others. By promoting "productive collisions" between disciplines, CIMB has already enabled breakthroughs in cancer screening and tissue engineering to reduce the need for hip and knee replacements, and in 2010 the center will work with CU's Leeds School of Business to develop biotechnology-focused entrepreneurial programs.
Partner, Crispin Porter + Bogusky
If you put Mad Men's Don Draper through the modern-day Boulder ringer, you'd get Alex Bogusky—a savvy ad man who knows how to create buzz for products like Burger King (he brought the creepy, plastic-masked king to life), Mini Cooper (he placed the wee cars in the stands of sports stadiums), and Guitar Hero (the spoofs of Risky Business). Bogusky's so hip, in fact, that Microsoft hired his firm to fight back against the damaging "Mac vs. PC" campaign from Apple, which proves that Front Rangers— or, at the very least, Bogusky and his team—are every bit as creative and effective at selling things as those modern-day Manhattan Mad Men.