The 5280 Fifty

We rank the 50 most powerful people in Denver.

December 2011

31. Wellington Webb (New)

Founder, Webb Group International and Former Mayor of Denver
Webb’s impressive 12-year run as Denver’s mayor ended in 2003, but his honor still looms over much city business. Mayoral candidate Michael Hancock felt the need to get the endorsement of Webb in a very public and heavily promoted event that involved a ceremonial “passing of the sneakers.” When Governor Hickenlooper was looking for a wise elder statesman to appoint to the state’s 11-member reapportionment commission, he turned to Webb. And last summer, just when it was looking like a forgone conclusion that the Stock Show was moving to Aurora, Webb wrote an editorial in the Denver Post in which he went so far as to advise Hancock and pretty much everyone else involved on how to do their jobs: “Finally, I am dismayed that this entire discussion began when Mayor-elect Michael Hancock and his family are on a much-deserved vacation after a grueling campaign. This decision likely will be made on his watch, and he deserves to have a major voice from day one.”

32. Kelly Brough (21)

President and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
It’s Brough, as in tough. As in the current economy, which Brough has navigated with her usual no-nonsense style as the first woman to helm the DMCC. Brough has helped stabilize the business environment enough that it at least seems like the recession hasn’t hit as hard here as it has in similar cities. Despite her gritty reputation, she’s been one of the local business and political leaders to call for a greater sense of civility in political and business negotiations, and the “business agenda” the DMCC submitted to Mayor Hancock calls for greater openness to regionalism, streamlined approval processes for businesses that work with the city, and improved support for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.

33. Ed Tauer (New)

Outgoing Mayor of Aurora
Tauer used his two terms about as well as Denver’s next-door neighbor’s residents (and businesses) could have hoped. He was the lynchpin in getting the city new water rights and more “favorable” zoning. He laid much of the groundwork for Aurora’s next phase, one that could see it finally realize its potential as a residential and corporate destination for people and companies that are priced out of increasingly expensive Denver but still want ready access to everything the Front Range has to offer. Or at least, that’s what he’s got people believing. As Tauer’s term-limited tenure ends, he should earn a big thank you from his successor

34. Steve Hogan (New)

New Mayor, Aurora
Tauer’s successor was the surprise winner in November’s election, running a strong final month of the campaign to defeat GOP darling Ryan Frazier. Now the former Aurora city councilman will leverage his reputation for resourceful budget-balancing to a city that’s trying to generate fiscal improvements in the coming years. Among the items on Hogan’s agenda: making Aurora more alluring to corporate relocations, working through the Gaylord complex and National Western Stock Show negotiations, and helping the city—whose acreage almost equals Denver’s and surpasses cities such as Tampa and Pittsburgh—work with Denver to tackle issues related to economic regionalism.

35. Hugo Matheson (New)

Executive Chef and Co-owner, The Kitchen
Colorado has been eating at farm-to-fork restaurants for so long, it’s hard to think of this as a national culinary trend. But it is, and it is thanks, in large part, to Hugo Matheson. Raised in the U.K., Matheson grew up eating seasonal ingredients grown or produced near his home. As a chef, he used that eat-local philosophy to create Boulder’s the Kitchen. And then the Kitchen [Upstairs], the Kitchen [Next Door], and the Kitchen Café. (Whew.) This spring, he will launch a Denver outpost at the corner of Wazee and 16th streets and has plans to open four more across the country. But unlike many chefs-turned-celebrities who open restaurants constantly, the Kitchen’s growth is, well, more organic, which is just the way Matheson likes it.

36. Scott Gessler (New)

Secretary of State
In just 11 months, Republican Scott Gessler has managed to turn the ho-hum secretary of state position into one that makes headlines—weekly. He’s sued Denver’s clerk and recorder to stop mailing ballots to inactive registered voters (i.e., voters that skipped voting in 2010). He complained that his new gig didn’t pay well enough and he’d need to work a second job at a firm that supports candidates (that was shot down as a conflict of interest). And, during a routine speech in front of Republicans in October, he called out President Obama. All of which might make you wonder: Does Gessler have a loftier position in mind? Or will his antics turn him into the next Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state during the 2000 presidential election, hanging chads and all?

37. Rhonda Fields (New)

State Representative and Victim Advocate, 42nd District
Officially recognized this year by the Colorado Democratic Party as a “Rising Star,” Rhonda Fields was a working mom until her son, Javad Fields, and his fiancée were murdered in 2005 just before Javad was set to testify in a murder trial. Fields spent months working with law enforcement to find her son’s killers. (Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens were convicted and now sit on death row.) But she didn’t stop there: She testified at the Capitol and helped pass a witness protection act. Then she ran for office—and won. While Fields is just starting her second year, she’s gained the type of respect that politicians dream about.

38. Melanie Mills (New)

CEO and President, Colorado Ski Country USA
As the unofficial chief snow ambassador for the state, Melanie Mills lobbies on behalf of 22 ski resorts at the Capitol and molds legislation about everything from I-70 traffic snarls to ski fatalities. Her three-year tenure has had its share of wipeouts: Vail Resorts left the group in 2008 and Mills had to lay off workers; the bad-news economy meant the group had to shift focus to staycation travelers; and a drought in the southern part of the state left lift lines empty. But Mills has adapted quickly, and Colorado Ski Country resorts saw a 2.6 percent growth in visitors last season.

39. Cliff Dodge (New)

GOP Operative
He’s long been an influential “grass top” among the grassroots of the state GOP. A former chief of staff for the state Legislature’s Senate Republicans and campaign manager for Tom Tancredo’s impressive failure of a gubernatorial bid, Dodge is now a wave-maker all on his own: He is either the best or worst thing to happen to the state’s constitution. While Democrats have been trying to get the Legislature to pass Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, which would require a 60 percent super majority to amend the state constitution, Dodge has been fighting it. (As it stands, the constitution can be changed with a simple majority.) Such a change would have a major effect on the region’s policy, taxes, and power players. In a take-that move, Dodge has threatened to run a ballot measure that would apply proposed SCR-1 standards to raise taxes. And he’s been successful in jamming a stick in the spokes of the Dem establishment’s SCR-1 wheels.

40. Tom Boasberg (New)

Superintendent, Denver Public Schools
Observers of public education throughout the United States are training their gaze on DPS, which is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) public districts in the country to be undertaking such massive changes in the way it evaluates students and teachers. In many ways, Boasberg is presiding over the infrastructure former superintendent Michael Bennet installed before he moved on to the U.S. Senate. But with the recent moves toward greater teacher accountability and innovative student assessments, Boasberg’s success—he’s under contract through 2015— will rise or fall on the performance of his educators, and on how much (or little) they improve local kids’ performance.