The Most Powerful People In Denver

Our list of the movers and shakers who are shaping the Mile High City—now. 

April 2014


redarrow 14. MARY BETH SUSMAN

 Denver City Council President (new)

susmanIn any metropolis, the city council does much of its work out of the spotlight. Its members tend to be a collection of characters, everyone from wonky political lifers to neighborhood activists to ambitious ladder-climbers. (Mayor Hancock—number three—is one of our most notable recent city council alumni.)

Over the past few years, a number of high-profile issues have given these members—led by Mary Beth Susman—more ink than they’re probably used to receiving. Chief among these is marijuana (see number nine). Since voters legalized its recreational use in 2012, the council has been the body (in Denver) charged with determining its ancillary rules and making decisions on key issues such as sales taxes and regulating the number of new pot shops. Council members Charlie Brown, Jeanne Robb, and Susan Shepherd are among those whose decisions and debates have garnered the most headlines, and despite a few silly deliberations—such as whether you could smoke a joint in your backyard but not on your front porch—the panel was able to reach some sensible compromises.

More recently, the council voted to expand the city’s program for minority- and women-owned contracting businesses, an important step for economic equality at a time when local construction is booming. These are the sorts of everyday things we rely upon the council to resolve—even if we’re not necessarily noticing it—and the current group has achieved impressive results during a challenging and unique time.


redarrow 15. LARRY MIZEL

 Chairman and CEO, MDC Holdings Inc. (7)

When you make big bucks like Larry Mizel—his 2012 compensation topped $8 million—you have a lot to spend on elections, and this Republican does. Refreshingly, though, his support is often bipartisan: He’s thrown cash at Jared Polis (number 20), Mike Coffman (see number 32), and, of course, the governor (who uses him as a go-to adviser, especially on business issues).



 CEO, CRL Associates (10)

mariaberryAs Denver’s busy building up—and out—Maria Garcia Berry is often behind the scenes negotiating or steering projects as an “independent consultant” (translation: power player, fat Rolodex, gets things done). Her latest focus is on the future of the National Western Stock Show, which means she’s also talking about the Brighton Boulevard revitalization, the I-70 burial project—which would submerge the thoroughfare from I-25 to Colorado Boulevard—and light rail expansions. And she’s one of the hired guns helping negotiate the Gaylord resort project at DIA. When there’s a major revitalization project happening in or around Denver, Garcia Berry often plays a key role.


redarrow 17. ROBERT WHITE

 Chief of Police, Denver Police Department (new)

robertwhiteWhen Robert White took over the police department in 2011, it was a mess, primarily because police brutality cases had sapped the public’s trust. Since then, White’s graduated a new class of officers and begun restructuring the department by replacing crime-lab techs with inexpensive civilians (enabling him to hire more cops). The latter drew the ire of District Attorney Mitch Morrissey—the two publicly traded verbal barbs over the issue—as did a dispute over whether crime rates were up or down. (Morrissey says his team is prosecuting more felonies, so rates must be up; White says they are down and that his FBI-reported data is sound.) The squabbles may be minor, but they show that unlike some past police chiefs, White is always ready for a fight.



Colorado’s political landscape is changing—and it’s about time.

We didn’t like it any more than you. We were on the team that put together 5280’s last power list, and there were just 12 women in those pages. We wanted more, looked for more, but we were stuck between reporting reality and what we hoped to be the reality in our enlightened city. Put another way: In 2011, we wished that power structures in Denver had shifted to include more women, more minorities, and more diversity of thought.

They hadn’t, but that’s finally changing. We knew two years ago there was momentum (thanks, in part, to the BlueFlower Project and White House Project) driving more female candidates to run for office and—this is perhaps most important—making sure they had the funds to do so. We also started hearing about women such as Faith Winter, mayor pro tem of Westminster (she’s running for the state House this year) and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy (who’s now working for Michael Hancock as the deputy mayor and Denver’s chief financial officer, and seemingly waiting for her next campaign move). 

There were (and are) so many others to watch, such as state Representatives Crisanta Duran and Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff. And don’t forget people like attorney Melissa Kuipers, Downtown Denver Partnership’s Tami Door, and GOP legacy Monica Owens, who would all be strong candidates, if convinced to run. All of which means reality is at long last starting to catch up with our hopes. 

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