The 5280 Fifty

We rank the 50 most powerful people in Denver.

December 2011

11. The Latino Bloc (New)

Consider the most pressing issues of the day— education, jobs, electoral redistricting, and immigration—and you’ll see this massive and politically diverse socioeconomic group is at the forefront of each one. Hispanics already are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in America (they comprise a full one-fifth of Colorado’s population), and they own about 44 percent more businesses than they did a decade ago. And they’re anything but homogeneous when it comes to how they vote or spend money, so candidates or businesses who want their backing can’t rely on canned speeches or empty promises. Instead, they must engage and connect with Latinos to earn their support. If aspiring politicians don’t, they’re done. End of story.


12. Tim Marquez (30)

CEO, Venoco Inc.; Co-founder, Denver Scholarship Fund
Oilman Timothy Marquez and his wife Bernadette are a Colorado version of Bill and Melinda Gates. The duo plans to give away as much as 95 percent of their wealth to causes, like the $50 million of Venoco stock they invested to start the Denver Scholarship Foundation, a fund that has already doled out more than $5 million to Denver’s college-bound. Or the $10 million (plus) they’ve donated to Colorado School of Mines—Marquez’s alma mater. But all that goodwill doesn’t mean that Marquez is retiring from his day job. This year, he made a power move to buy back the company he founded (and took public) so he could take it private again. Worth watching: Venoco runs fracking operations in California. Is Colorado next?

13. Dr. Patricia Gabow (10)

CEO, Denver Health
Although she is retiring next September, Gabow remains not only the most powerful health-care figure in the city; she’s one of the most influential voices on health care in the country. She took over Denver General, the city’s public hospital in 1992, when it was a dying, money-hemorrhaging “patient,” mired in the typical bureaucratic nonsense. Under her leadership Denver Health has become one of the most well-regarded hospitals in the country. There’s something for everyone to admire in her performance: She’s got a public hospital performing as well—in terms of cost effectiveness and medical outcomes—as some of the top-performing hospitals in the country. This summer, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius co-wrote a Denver Post editorial with Gabow and cited Denver Health as a national example of excellence.

14. Mark Udall (6)

U.S. Senator
After overcoming his opponents’ efforts to label him as a “Boulder liberal” in the 2008 election, Udall has turned out to be a potent progressive. He played watchdog on Department of Justice misuse of the Patriot Act. He worked with a GOP senator on a balanced-budget amendment that was ultimately tabled. And, in his biggest legislative accomplishment this term, he led a bipartisan effort to pass a law that allows broader nonwinter use of Colorado’s ski resorts, no small accomplishment in these divisive times. As the state’s senior senator, still three years from a re-election bid and holding coveted spots on the influential Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources committees, Udall shows there’s still room in government for moderate, thoughtful voices.

15. Rob Katz (New)

CEO, Vail Resorts
As far as mountain-loving Coloradans are concerned, it’s Vail Resorts’ world; we all just live here. As the snow-sport behemoth Hoovers up properties throughout the state and beyond, Katz is the one leading the charge. Despite the difficult economic environment for tourism, Vail’s properties saw an increase in traffic last season, thanks in part to ramped-up marketing efforts in places such as Texas, California, and even Brazil. Katz lobbied hard for the law Udall successfully championed that will enable Vail to offer and profit from more summertime activities, such as zip-lining. All of which means that Vail’s plans for (resort) world domination are all coming together.

16. Mario Carrera (New)

VP/GM, Entravision Communications
When—surprise, surprise—state Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on the reapportionment of Colorado’s congressional districts, the hot mess ended up in Carrera’s lap. The only unaffiliated member of the 11-person Colorado Reapportionment Commission—the group charged with redrawing the electoral map every 10 years according to population shifts—Carrera’s plan will likely be the one that gets adopted, meaning that this nonelected official has tremendous (and respected) sway over state elections for the coming decade. When you factor in that he runs the Spanish-language communications giant Entravision, which carries the second-most-watched newscast in Denver, it’s little wonder they call him “Super Mario.”

17. Blair Richardson (New)

Managing Partner, Bow River CapitaL Partners
This longtime operator in business, real-estate investment, and philanthropy has advised and allied himself with Democrats and Republicans alike. Part of Governor Hickenlooper’s informal “kitchen cabinet,” Hick recently appointed him chairman of the board of the oft-criticized Pinnacol Assurance. It was Richardson who researched the proposed restructuring of the state-chartered worker’s compensation insurance fund, which came under fire for allegedly luxurious abuses enjoyed by its executives. Under Richardson’s watchful eye, Pinnacol promises greater transparency and a more efficient execution of its core mission. Richardson’s not-so-secret weapon is his wife, Kristin, who is respected and remarkably active in several philanthropic organizations.

18. Greg Maffei (48)

President and CEO, Liberty Media Corporation
Maffei is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the country. As the right-hand man of chairman John Malone’s Liberty Media Corporation, Maffei manages Liberty’s portfolio, which includes Starz, QVC, the Atlanta Braves, and stakes in myriad companies, including Live Nation. Yet, he’s active in national and local politics, too. Three years ago, conservative Maffei laughed off rumors that he was considering running for governor. Since then, he’s ratcheted up his behind-the-scenes involvement. It was Maffei, atop a host committee that included Pete Coors and Larry Mizel, who held a fund-raiser for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and it was Maffei who joined with Mizel to hold a fund-raiser lunch for then-gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper. Maffei is now a member of Hickenlooper’s kitchen cabinet and a close friend. Good chance Maffei will co-chair the Colorado finance committee for Mitt Romney 2012.

19. Gail Klapper (New)

Director, Colorado Forum
As the director of the Colorado Forum, when Klapper talks, people listen. The Forum is a statewide political action organization comprised of 65 of the state’s leading CEOs and power players. The group advocates for the private sector with an annual agenda of issues such as transportation, education, water, health care, fiscal policy, and the environment. Members include: Vectra Bank President and CEO Bruce Alexander and Kathryn Ann Paul, the CEO of Delta Dental Plan of Colorado. Because of the Forum’s who’s who, Klapper is an ambassador with great sway.

20. Bruce Benson (13)

President, University of Colorado
Ostensibly, Benson left politics years ago for academia, and under his guidance the state university system has navigated difficult economic times. He’s presided over CU’s move to the more lucrative Pac-12 Conference, he’s opened the doors of state schools to a broader range of qualified, low-income community college students, and he’s raised more than $900 million in private donations—well on his way to a targeted $1.5 billion. Not bad for a guy whose appointment was opposed at first by the CU Faculty Assembly and is allegedly now out of politics.