Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

The 50 most powerful people in town, as ranked by the most powerful people in town.

tom menino

Photo by Guido Vitti

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