Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

Try to gauge whether one Bostonian is more powerful than another, and you inevitably wind up with a series of infuriating Zen koans, such as "Is MFA chief Malcolm Rogers more powerful than über-philanthropist Barbara Hostetter?" Power changes, it overlaps, it leeches off of other power to sustain its growth. It can be intimidating, inspiring, and, most of all, fleeting. But it’s also nearly impossible to quantify.

Which is why this year, we’re taking a different tack. Breaking the Hub power structure into its 13 essential elements, we profile the local potentate who epitomizes each one: from power gained from philanthropy to power gained from coercion and domination; from those establishing Boston as a cultural tastemaker to the development titans sending a resolutely squat city vertical. Taken together, these case studies give a good sense of the kinds of people who make things happen around here, and — more interestingly — how.

What these case studies are not, though, is a ranking. So to those featured: No, you can’t go make up T-shirts touting your being named among the 13 most powerful people in town. For that sort of validation, you’ll have to consult this roster. It’s based on the one criterion you actually can use to construct a reasonably accurate power hierarchy: how well a practitioner’s peers think he or she plays the game. —Joe Keohane

 

ULTIMATE POWER
Case Study: Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston

Tom Menino owns this town.
He can steer public works projects and contracts, raise or level buildings, make zoning laws vanish with the wave of a hand…
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FIXER POWER
Case Study: Martha Coakley, Massachusetts attorney general

When Republican lawyer and local Machiavelli Dan Winslow first met Martha Coakley, he was struck by how the state’s first woman AG had never come uncoupled from her Catholic upbringing in North Adams…
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GODLY POWER
Case Study: Reverend Ray Hammond, pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

It’s been 20 years since Reverend Ray Hammond founded Bethel A.M.E. in his Dorchester dining room, and until his upcoming move to the former St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Jamaica Plain is complete, he’ll continue preaching to his flock on folding chairs in an old school gym…
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WATCHDOG POWER
Case Study: Michael Widmer, president, Massachusetts Taxpayers Association
The budget crunch on Beacon Hill has meant boom times for Michael Widmer, the go-to for expert commentary on the state’s bottom line…
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SCHMOOZE POWER
Case Study: Jan Saragoni, founder, Saragoni & Company; Michael Goldman, senior consultant, Government Insight Group

All power is derived in large part from relationships, but in Boston — where media, politics, and PR are connected to the point of symbiosis—those who manage to move gracefully among the three (i.e., schmooze like a champ) may find themselves disproportionately successful…
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MONEY POWER
Case Study: Steve Belkin, founder and chairman, Trans National Group

Boston isn’t ordinarily a place where people can use the sheer force of money to get what they want. But Mayor Menino inadvertently provided the opportunity to do just that with his call for a Hancock-dwarfing, 1,000-foot downtown skyscraper — and it was Steve Belkin who had the pluck to seize it…
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SCARY POWER
Case Study: George Regan, president, Regan Communications Group

He’s a one-name bogeyman, known all over town simply as "George." His firm reps some of the biggest brands in New England (among them the Celtics, the Pats, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mohegan Sun, Bank of America, New Balance, and, we are obligated to note, this very magazine). But in certain circles what he does for his clients is never discussed so much as what he might do to them…
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BENEVOLENT POWER
Case Study: Paul Grogan, president and CEO, the Boston Foundation

In New York, power is money; in L.A., it’s fame. In Boston, it’s philanthropy. "It’s fundamental to how we think of ourselves as a city," says Geri Denterlein, founder of Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs, a stalwart of the scene. "It’s central to our self-image." Few understand this better than Paul Grogan…
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MACHINE POWER
Case Study: New England Sports Ventures

When you’ve assembled the devastatingly effective machine that Henry has, you get to write your own rules…
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TASTEMAKER POWER
Case Study: Jill Medvedow, director, Institute of Contemporary Art

The far-reaching waterfront view from Jill Medvedow’s third-floor office at the ICA is a remarkably poignant reminder of the endless possibilities and serious longshots that marked seven years of her life…
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CONNORS-ESQUE* POWER
*A dizzyingly multifaceted approach to influence, as popularized by Jack Connors.
Case Study: John Fish, CEO, Suffolk Construction

Time was, John Fish was just a hard-nosed construction brute whose pursuit of cheap labor meant pissing off unions and slapping around subcontractors. Then he got wise to a much better way to get ahead in this town — not merely with hard work, but also with equally relentless pleasantries…
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BRAIN POWER
Case Study: Joshua Boger, founder, president, and CEO, Vertex Pharmaceuticals

If you talk about business in Massachusetts, you’re increasingly talking about science, as well. If you talk about science, you’re also talking about academia. And if you talk about the interaction of these three things, you end up talking about one guy: Joshua Boger…
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NIMBY POWER
Case Study: The Beacon Hill Civic Association

Not too long ago, City Hall was in the habit of steamrolling neighborhood opposit
ion to development, and indeed, whole neighborhoods. It’s since decided there are more votes in appeasing constituent discontent than in hurling a wrecking ball at it…
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THE DEBI INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
No one has done more to refine Bostonians’ taste over the years than Louis Boston owner Debi Greenberg, as her alumni list attests.

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