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.
Owner, Tamales by La Casita
Don't underestimate the self-deprecating hombre in the white apron. Sandoval, a North Denver restaurant owner, was a state senator back in the late '70s and early '80s, and remains a political puppet master: After City Councilman Rick Garcia emerged as the likely front runner for director of the regional Housing and Urban Development office, Sandoval set the political stage for his wife, Paula (a state senator), to take Garcia's seat. Sandoval is a member of Ken Salazar's kitchen cabinet and doles out advice to the likes of DPS' Tom Boasberg. On top of all that, he finds time to sell 12,000 tamales daily.
Republican Gubernatorial Candidate
The three-term congressman looked like he was in trouble early in the Republican gubernatorial primary; state Senate minority leader Josh Penry was widely viewed as the GOP's rising—and possibly present—gubernatorial star. The old-hand politico didn't fret, though, raising loads of cash and lining up support from his GOP friends—who helped push Penry out of the race in November. McInnis was even able to quell rabble-rouser Tom Tancredo, assuring all concerned that he'll be able to coast to an easy Republican primary victory and focus his attention—and money—on the weakened Governor Ritter.
As the Democrats' chief deputy whip and the senior member of Colorado's congressional delegation, DeGette wields a big stick in Washington. Example: She was instrumental in pushing through the stem-cell reform bill. Back home in Denver, though, DeGette stays out of local politics and isn't the type to focus on bringing home the bacon for her district, which is liberal enough that she doesn't have to worry about losing her seat to a Republican. Yet a Democratic opponent could be a problem for DeGette; one Denver politico told us, "If Andrew Romanoff had the balls, he could have given DeGette a good challenge."
Executive Director, Susan G. Komen for the Cure—Denver Metropolitan Affiliate
If you've ever stood on Speer Boulevard among the tens of thousands of pink ribbons and inspired—and inspiring—women, men, and children as they embark on the annual 5K Komen Race for the Cure, you could feel the power of Michele Ostrander. Last year, Ostrander's second as the executive director of Komen's Denver chapter, 53,849 people participated in the Mile High City's Race for the Cure, netting about $2 million for the organization. Last year, funds raised by the Denver chapter made possible more than 5,000 mammograms and almost 26,000 meals for patients in need, among many other services. Lance Armstrong may have coined the word "Livestrong," but in Denver it's Ostrander—and the thousands of volunteers she and her team turn out each year to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer—who truly embodies that ethos.
Former Bronco, Entrepreneur
Life after football has proved to be considerably more challenging than opposing defenses were to Elway, the Bronco legend and one of Denver's chief brands. Though Elway's eponymous restaurants and car dealerships have made him millions in the decade since his retirement, the sometimes GOP celebrity has also endured a messy divorce; he was chairman of the Arena Football League's executive committee when the league folded last August; and recently news reports identified Elway as a pitchman for an alleged $30 million Ponzi scheme. To date, there's no evidence he's done anything wrong, and the issue seems to have had little effect on how warmly locals still view number 7, flaws and all.
Minority Leader, State Senate
Sure, Penry took a hit by leaving the Republican gubernatorial primary, but in the face of troublesome polls, a fund-raising effort that was falling short of McInnis', and the big GOP money that was lining up against him, avoiding a damaging primary was the smartest thing he could have done. If anything, that he's taken as a threat within his own party speaks volumes. The 33-year-old Penry has kept his powder dry for future races and increased his statewide profile, both of which will help him as the state Senate minority leader, where he'll be able to actively undermine Ritter and the Democrats. And unlike Andrew Romanoff—who jumped into a race where he wasn't wanted—Penry can remain the GOP's next great contender.
RTD General Manager and CEO
When Cal Marsella, the general manager of the Regional Transportation District for 14 years, stepped down last July, he left a gaping hole: RTD is facing a $2.2 billion shortfall in funding for the FasTracks system. The recently hired Washington, RTD's former assistant GM for administration, will likely have one of the toughest jobs in Colorado: convincing money-strapped voters to support a tax hike to finish the light-rail system.
President/CEO, Liberty Media
A former high-level adviser to Bill Gates, Maffei leads Liberty Media under chairman John Malone. Instrumental in Liberty's takeover of Sirius XM radio, he manages properties like QVC, DirecTV, and Starz Entertainment, as well as Fox Sports networks in several regions, including Denver. On the side, Maffei is active in Republican politics, and his name often surfaces as a potential statewide candidate.
Director, Denver Art Museum
The DAM is one of a handful of local institutions that will help determine how quickly Denver can attain its feverishly desired international reputation, so perhaps it's fitting that a European is now running it. Heinrich came to the DAM from his native Germany, and his knowledge of and connections to the international art community won him the director position after two years as a curator. For Heinrich, Frederic Hamilton and the museum's board agreed to retire Lewis Sharp after two decades of service. The museum's latest splashy installation, Embrace!, which was curated by Heinrich and debuted in November, showcases the grand vision for DAM and stamps it as a destination for artists and art lovers from all over the world.
Lame "cold activated" cans and bottles notwith-standing, Coors and Co. brew a lot of Silver Bullets and a branding power that transcends the tailgate.