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.

Boston's most powerful people.

Photograph by Gary Land

These kind of rankings typically emphasize traditional power — politics, finance, industry — but we’ve set out here to look beyond the rule makers, to find the rule breakers. That means the players charting new directions for our city. That means people like Rich Miner of Google Ventures (who’s helping to turn the city into Silicon Valley East) and Ralph de la Torre of Steward Health Care (who’s reinventing the hospital business) ranked right up there with the pols and investors. Mayor Tom Menino, of course, remains the alpha and omega of the city: You can’t put up a building, get elected, or snag the right permit if you’ve crossed him. On the other hand, if you’re in with him, the possibilities are endless. So to save everyone the effort, we’ve simply removed the mayor from consideration. Below, we present the 50 most powerful people in Boston — not named Tom Menino.


The Power List

No. 1  John Fish

Chairman and CEO, Suffolk Construction

Name a building in Boston, and Suffolk Construction probably put it up: the convention center, the cardiovascular center at Brigham and Women’s, the cancer research center at MIT, and even the tower that’s about to go in that hole in the ground in Downtown Crossing. While other projects stall in front of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Fish’s sail through. Suffolk’s solid work is a big reason why, but so is the relationship Fish has cannily developed with the mayor over the years — he has two former Menino chiefs of staff on his payroll. Factor in all of his philanthropic work — Suffolk’s Red & Blue Foundation is the main force behind Menino’s pet Boston Scholar Athlete Program — and Fish is simply the guy who can get things done.


No. 2  Jack Connors

All-Purpose Power Broker

If there’s a board, he sits on it. If there’s a charity, he fundraises for it. If there’s a string, he’s pulling it. Connors may be stepping down as chairman of the Partners HealthCare board this summer, but he’ll still have plenty of juice: The Hill Holliday founder is an Obama fundraiser and a major benefactor of Boston’s Catholic schools as well as Camp Harbor View, one of Menino’s favored projects. The only thing he hasn’t done in town is buy the Globe — yet.


No. 3  Carmen Ortiz

U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts

Two and a half years into the job, and Ortiz has already overseen the convictions of former Speaker Sal DiMasi, former state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, and former City Councilor Chuck Turner. Next up: Whitey Bulger. We don’t like his odds.


No. 4  Deval Patrick

Governor, Massachusetts

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

Patrick is now a governor in full: He’s stood his ground with the legislature (he won the casino showdown with Robert DeLeo); he’s combined all the transportation departments under the auspices of MassDOT; and he’s actually boosted the 2013 budget by 3 percent. If President Obama is reelected — and his cabinet undergoes the usual second-term wave of resignations — his good buddy and national campaign cochair will be on the shortlist for an appointment. Attorney General Patrick, anyone?


No. 5  Martha Coakley

Attorney General, Massachusetts

What a difference a couple of years make. After Coakley lost to Scott Brown in the 2010 special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, she became Democrata non grata. Since then, she’s worked diligently to redeem herself by, among other things, leading a group of state attorneys general that filed suit against foreclosure-happy banks (result: $318 million in settlement money for state homeowners) and recovering hundreds of millions more in corruption and criminal cases. Reputation recovered.


No. 6  Therese Murray

President, Massachusetts Senate

Her counterpart in the House, Robert DeLeo, has grabbed the lion’s share of press attention, but we expect Murray to outlast him. Besides avoiding scandalous headlines, she has an iron grip on the Democratic-controlled Senate.


No. 7  Robert DeLeo

Speaker, Massachusetts House of Representatives

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

After finally getting his casino bill through (by compromising with Patrick and Murray), DeLeo passed a pretty major municipal healthcare-reform bill over the protests of the unions — both strong moves. But everyone’s concerned that the federal investigation of the probation department could blow up in his face, or those of his political allies.


No. 8  Anne Finucane

Global Strategy and Marketing Officer, Bank of America

Cool and collected — and married to columnist and commentator Mike Barnicle — Finucane is an insider and master negotiator with connections to everyone from Barney Frank and the Kennedys to Bill Clinton and Robert Kraft. And given the fact that she helps lead a company with 7,000 employees in Massachusetts and more than 250,000 worldwide — and possesses marketing skills that have enabled her to change the way Americans think about banks — she holds even more sway here than Bank of America’s CEO, Brian Moynihan.


No. 9  Ned Johnson and Abigail Johnson

Father-Daughter Dynasty, Fidelity Investments

With more than $1.5 trillion in assets, Fidelity is the largest private company in the state and the 20th largest in the country. After 35 years at the helm, Ned Johnson has begun to step back — he remains the chairman and CEO of the parent company, but handed over the title of chairman of the mutual funds business to his daughter Abigail early last year. Not a coup, but just the latest in a painstakingly slow process that points to Abby eventually being anointed head of Fidelity.


No. 10  Rich Miner

Partner, Google Ventures

Boston’s tech scene has begun to roar, and Miner may be its leading voice. As a partner at Google Ventures — which set up shop in Kendall Square in 2009 — the creator of the Android operating system has the company’s checkbook, and has used it to fund major upstarts such as Recorded Future, Scvngr, and HubSpot.


No. 11 Gary Gottlieb

President and CEO,  Partners HealthCare

If Massachusetts is the testing ground for national healthcare policy, Gottlieb is the one setting the agenda. In the past year, he sliced insurance premiums with a new Blue Cross Blue Shield contract and started a new nationwide plan to decrease Medicare expenses. However we ultimately solve the crisis in healthcare costs, Gottlieb and Partners will have a hand in it.


No. 12  Ralph de la Torre

Chairman and CEO, Steward Health Care

He’s the wheeling-and-dealing underdog to Gottlieb’s grandfatherly figure. De la Torre and the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management converted Caritas Christi — a struggling nonprofit community-hospital network — into the for-profit Steward Health Care, and somehow balanced the concerns of the Boston Archdiocese, the unions, and the politicians. And he hasn’t let up, throwing fundraisers for Obama, Patrick, and Coakley; swiping doctors from other local hospitals (150 physicians came over from Beth Israel Deaconess); and even delivering a convincing argument in Bloomberg Businessweek for how to cut healthcare costs. If de la Torre keeps it up, he’s going to find himself in charge of Obamacare.


No. 13  Joe O’Donnell

Potential Casino Titan

Even after selling Boston Culinary Group, the longtime concessions king is still packing plenty of punch. A close friendship with Menino has helped O’Donnell, who owns 31 percent of Suffolk Downs, scare off competitors who might want to challenge the track for the rights to a casino license.


No. 14  Menino’s Court

These are the people who execute the mayor’s vision — and control how you live, work, and play. Key players: Mitchell Weiss (the whiz-kid chief of staff with the HBS degree); Michael Kineavy (the chief of policy and planning and 17-year Menino adviser); Ed Davis (the police commissioner who deftly handled both the Occupy Boston protests and the Bruins Stanley Cup celebrations); Carol Johnson (the school superintendent who’s overseeing the proposed new lottery-assignment system); and Nicole Freedman (the bike czar who instituted the Hubway bike-sharing program).


No. 15  Marty Baron

Editor, The Boston Globe

Fresh off taking down Sal DiMasi, Baron’s paper exposed DeLeo’s patronage scandal at the probation department. Meanwhile, the Globe investigation into the bloated salary of Michael McLaughlin, the well-connected head of the Chelsea Housing Authority, threatens to stain figures as high ranking as Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray.


No. 16  Ted Kelly

Chairman, Liberty Mutual, Board of Trustees Chair, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Kelly stepped down after 13 years as CEO of Boston’s insurance giant — a stretch that saw him grow revenue from $8 billion to $34 billion — while spearheading a sponsorship of the Boston Pops’ Fourth of July extravaganza. He remains Liberty’s chairman, and is also serving as head of the BSO’s board of trustees, where he’s been tasked with filling the most important cultural job in the region — finding a new musical director.


No. 17  Robert Kraft

Chairman and CEO, New England Patriots

The most influential owner in America’s biggest sport, Kraft is universally credited with rescuing the last NFL season from labor strife. He’s also politically wired (tight with the gov), so don’t bet against his Foxboro casino bid.


No. 18  John Henry and Tom Werner

Principal Owner and Chairman, Respectively, Boston Red Sox

Want to know what power is? The Sox were able to cut a deal with the city granting them air rights on Lansdowne Street (for the Green Monster seats) and permission to take over Yawkey Way on game days — all for just $186,000 a year. A Red Sox town, indeed.


No. 19  Joe Fallon

President and CEO, the Fallon Company

There was no bigger Boston real estate deal in 2011 than Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ move from Cambridge to a $900 million office and lab complex at Fallon’s Fan Pier on the South Boston waterfront, a deal that’s spurred development in the whole area.


No. 20  Paul Grogan

President and CEO, The Boston Foundation

Grogan is the head of an $850 million philanthropic octopus, with a hand in giving out $80 million in grants every year to area non-profits, including homeless- relief organizations, arts institutions, and academic think tanks.


Correction: In the print version of this story, we misidentified Joe Fallon. He is the president, CEO, and founder of the Fallon Company, and is responsible for the development of the Fan Pier on South Boston’s waterfront. We regret the error. 

No. 21  Barbara Lee

Founder and President, Barbara Lee Family Foundation

Lee may be known for her ICA fundraising, but she’s also a top donor to the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the Essex Art Center, and MIT’s List Visual Arts Center. Plus, she’s dedicated to getting women — including Elizabeth Warren — elected to office.


No. 22  Anthony Pangaro

Principal, Millennium Partners — Boston

Filling the Filene’s memorial pit in Downtown Crossing =  instant inclusion on this list.

No. 23  Diane Paulus

Artistic Director, American Repertory Theater

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

When it comes to theater, Boston has long had a sleepy reputation. Thanks to Paulus, that’s no longer the case: She’s sold out shows in three theaters; dedicated her group to edgy thrills and musical innovation; and has a leading role in creating the Emerging America theater festival. She’s also propelled Boston up the ladder of great American theater cities, while still keeping ties to local writers (The Blue Flower) and subject matter (The Friends of Eddie Coyle).


No. 24  Richard Davey

Secretary and CEO, Massachusetts Department of Transportation

After overhauling the MBTA as its general manager — improving on-time rates, reducing customer complaints — Davey was rewarded when Governor Patrick promoted him last September to head of MassDOT. He’s now on the verge of convincing pols and the public alike to accept fare hikes on public transportation in order to reduce the authority’s staggering $161 million deficit. This guy owns your commute.


No. 25 John Kerry

U.S. Senator

We’re still not sure if we should forgive him for his sad-sack 2004 presidential campaign, but he’s our state’s senior senator, the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, and the third-wealthiest member of Congress ($193 million!). He also has a good shot at becoming secretary of state. We just wish we saw him around here more often.


No. 26

Scott Brown

U.S. Senator

Elizabeth Warren


Let’s be real: Given this state’s penchant for reelecting politicians — our current Congressional delegation has served a collective 200 years in office — whoever wins this race will probably be a senator for the foreseeable future. Warren has proven to be a strong fundraiser ($5.7 million in 2011’s fourth quarter), while Brown has been relatively moderate in hyperpartisan DC — he broke with the Republicans on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We can’t wait for the debates.


No. 27  Tracy Campion

Real Estate Titan, Campion and Company

Saying Campion is a real estate agent is like saying Tom Brady is a football player. Sure, she moves high-end properties, but she’s also intimately involved with planning Back Bay developments, and has helped keep Boston’s toniest neighborhoods mostly immune to the economic crisis. Campion’s a supreme connector — she can find the right buyer for almost any property — and she’s absolutely devoted to sensitive development in our historical city.


No. 28  Amos and Barbara Hostetter


They’re one of the wealthiest couples in Boston, thanks to billions from Continental Cablevision. Their Barr Foundation has $1 billion in the bank. They’re tight with Menino. Need we say more?


No. 29  Wendy Shattuck

Socialite and Philanthropist

Her husband, Sam Plimpton (an investor at the Baupost Group), may have made the money, but Shattuck knows how to leverage it. She’s connected with the New England Conservatory and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, but it’s her control over the exclusive Country Club’s new membership list that puts her among the elite.


No. 30  Jeffrey Leiden

President and CEO, Vertex Pharmaceuticals

The newly minted head of Vertex is leading his team to a new $900 million waterfront headquarters — a move that will result in more biz relocations there, earning him major credit with politicians and developers.


No. 31  Eric Fehrnstrom

Republican Political Consultant

If he can plot paths to victory for Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, the GOP could control the White House and the Senate — and Fehrnstrom will be crowned the next Karl Rove.


No. 32  Doug Rubin

Democratic Political Consultant

The former chief of staff for Governor Patrick, Rubin’s running the campaigns of both Elizabeth Warren and Joseph Kennedy III. He has a good shot at going two for two.


No. 33  Catherine Peterson

Executive Director, ArtsBoston

Peterson is the chief marketer of the arts in Boston, representing more than 170 organizations. And in a city chock-full of tourists, she makes sure the arts get their fair share of visitor dollars by constantly coordinating with the city and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.


No. 34  Ken Oringer and Barbara Lynch

Empire-Building Restaurateurs

Remember when Lynch’s Drink made craft cocktails the concept for every new bar? Or how Oringer’s temple to meat, Coppa, inspired charcuterie menus all over town? Well, here’s the deal: Whichever of these two launches the next great hot spot or giant food trend gets slot number 34 to him- or herself.


No. 35  Catherine d’Amato

President and CEO, The Greater Boston Food Bank

D’Amato sits on the board of directors at Boston’s Federal Reserve and the Boston Foundation, which only helps her near-saintly organization’s ability to feed nearly 500,000 people.


No. 36  Drew Gilpin Faust

President, Harvard University

She isn’t flashy, but Faust has kept a steady hand while steering Harvard through tough times, including an $11 billion loss in its endowment and endless delays with the Allston science complex. We’re eager to see whether the university’s latest focus on startups (see: the new Innovation Lab) will help keep aspiring Zuckerbergs in town.


No. 37  Doc Rivers

Head Coach, Boston Celtics

Considering that some athletes are still reluctant to play for teams in Boston because of the city’s perceived racist past, it was no small thing that Rivers, one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, signed a $35 million extension last year to stay in town through 2016. In committing to held rebuild the post–Big 3 Celtics, Rivers will be one of the team’s chief selling points to lure star free agents — of every race — to town.


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.


No. 39  Kairos Shen

Director of Planning, Boston Redevelopment Authority

The city’s chief planner has Menino’s trust, which is good news for Boston — Shen is trained in design (with a master’s in architecture from MIT) and is shaping our city (he helped convince Millennium to take over the Filene’s site at Downtown Crossing). We also love that he’s focused on keeping the streetscape pedestrian-friendly.


No. 40  Paul Guzzi

President and CEO, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

Guzzi sits at the powerful crossroads of politics (he’s a former Democratic secretary of the commonwealth) and business (he’s been running the chamber since 1996). He’s also involved with the Boston Club and the Kennedy School of Government. Guzzi is wired.

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.

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