The 50 Most Powerful People in Boston

In the city of Boston, demonstrations of power are nothing new. We’ve been throwing our weight around since the days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Today, as ever, some people in town just know how to get things done whether through intelligence, charm, enormous, piles of cash, back room deals, or just sheer force of will. After talking to scores of insiders across the area, we ranked the city’s heavy hitters and examine power in all its forms—from political muscle and business influence to cultural capital and social networking.

No. 41  Cardinal Seán O’Malley

Archdiocese of Boston

After years of focus on cleaning up the local sex abuse scandal, O’Malley is starting to embrace the traditional Cardinal role in politics: He’s currently battling a possible physician-assisted-suicide ballot initiative in Massachusetts and the federal government’s new ruling that almost all employers must offer health coverage that includes contraception.


No. 42  Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Lander is a presidential adviser, MacArthur genius grantee, and freshman biology teacher at MIT. But his real power comes from his role as director of the Broad Institute, a consortium of more than 1,800 MIT and Harvard doctors and researchers that has unraveled the mystery of the human genome — thus helping us inch toward cures for cancer.


No. 43

Anne Hawley,

Director, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Jill Medvedow

Director, The Institute of Contemporary Art

Malcolm Rogers

Director, Museum of Fine Arts

These three lead institutions that are central to the city’s image. Medvedow wins accolades for being forward-looking, while Rogers has the biggest national rep. That said, Hawley wins this year’s MVP award for completing the Gardner’s stunning new wing.


No. 44  William Rawn III

Founding Principal, William Rawn Associates

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

In a town where neighbors battle over every building proposal that even hints at the modern, this architect has quietly managed to build an impressive portfolio of stunning glass towers (the W hotel), innovative contemporary campuses (Northeastern), and shiny additions (Cambridge Public Library).


No. 45  Ayanna Pressley

City Councilor, Boston

After becoming the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council, in 2009, Pressley once again proved her campaign prowess when she coasted to reelection this past November, collecting the most votes of any at-large candidate. We’re expecting big things from this Menino protégé and former John Kerry political director. The mayor has to retire eventually….


No. 46  Steve Crosby

Chairman, Massachusetts Gaming Commission

As the head of the state’s new gambling commission, Crosby chairs the body that will decide the location of our three new casinos and one slot parlor. In other words, the former UMass Boston dean’s decisions will totally change the fabric of four towns in Massachusetts, forever. Choose wisely, sir.


No. 47  Jon Abbott

President and CEO, WGBH

He runs the colossus behind 11 public-TV and three public-radio outlets, and provides some two-thirds of all PBS programming nationwide. Abbott also wins points from arts insiders for building up the Brighton area around his shiny new headquarters, for beefing up local news coverage on WGBH radio, and for featuring Boston artists on the organization’s all-classical station, WCRB 99.5-FM.


No. 48  Steve Grossman

Treasurer, Massachusetts

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Look for the influence of Grossman — already a power broker in the state Democratic party — to increase if Massachusetts voters pass the medical marijuana bill this November. His department, which oversees the state’s liquor licensing, is a natural advisor to help the government figure out how to regulate all those totally fresh buds.


No. 49  Brian McGrory

Columnist, The Boston Globe

Thanks to his deep knowledge of Boston, the Globe scribe has the ear of everyday readers, politicians, and the movers and shakers on this list alike.


No. 50  Richard Freeland

Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

As president of Northeastern, Freeland pushed the university into the national spotlight by revolutionizing its co-op program. Now he’s overhauling the state’s public university system. If his master plan is adopted, Massachusetts may get the world-class system it deserves, from community colleges to the UMass campuses.


Correction: In the print version of this story, we misspelled Jon Abbott’s name, and incorrectly identified Steve Grossman, the state treasurer, as the person who oversees tax collection. We regret the errors.


  • Rick

    Wait until you find out what they charge for those wristwatches you advertise…

  • Reality

    If power is about influence, leverage and day-to-day affect on lives, I’d vote for Cindy Fitzgibbons, the guy who owns Sal’s Pizza, Steven Tyler, and that awesome lady who works in the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru window. While most of the clowns on this list are busy stroking each other,& paying for articles about themselves, others are actually affecting lives and inspiring people. If Cindy needs volunteers for a cause, I’d follow her before any of these people.

  • eggy

    “No. 38 Occupy Boston
    They came. They camped. They cost us as much as $60K in cleanup fees. But Occupy was more than a drawn-out demonstration of disgruntled 99 percenters in Dewey Square. It was an example of how a movement can voice a strong (if muddied) complaint against social and economic inequality without resorting to violence.” and accomplishing nothing.

  • Elizabeth

    The No. 1 most powerful person in Boston is congradulated for projects that he did not even complete. Two and a half of the projects referenced were Berry projects prior to Suffolk buying them out. They were successful due to the hard work and teamwork of the BERRY Team, not Suffolk.

  • You

    You don’t think Numero Uno is a number 1? Connect the dots on this list. Some of the elected officials on the list help procure taxpayer funded $ for the local hospitals. The hospital heads on the list, decide to build buildings for themselves. They call their friend, Fish, and give him the $ to build. He makes token donations to election campaigns, and pet charities (from $ squeezed from subs)and keeps the bulk for himself. Those donations help get officials re-elected. Sounds like everyone is working for him. That makes him a number 1 in my book.

  • Ralph

    Wow. It’s like Fish and Menino are straight out of Boardwalk Empire. How impressive! “if you’re in with him, the possibilities are endless.” Does hiring his son and former staffers = being in with him? I guess so. Pathetic.

  • John

    Of course, “powerful” does not imply honestly, ethics, fairness, respectability, generosity or intelligence. Look at Khadafi, Hussein, drug lords etc. Ironically, Fish used the same PR firm (The Monitor Group) as Libya.

  • Big

    That’s true…Fish taking credit for work done by Berry years before he swallowed (and excreted) them, would be like Ochocinco taking credit for the Patriots’ past Superbowl wins! Welcome to the team…try not to screw it up.

  • Mark

    Not being able to get things done if you’ve annoyed the mayor sounds an awful lot like corruption.

    If so, why are we celebrating it?

  • Look

    This is weird. In the group photo of the power players, cover-up everyone except Martha Coakley. By herself, she seems to have a Mona Lisa smile, and an air of integrity. Now, uncover John Fish. Suddenly, Martha looks sneaky, conniving and guilty of something. It’s like Fish’s aura rubs off on everyone around him.