Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

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

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. There she was, “fretting about whether to eat meat on a Friday,” he laughs. In fact, Coakley’s good-Catholic-girl persona is key to her effectiveness, as she’s marshaled a growing list of big-ticket wins in her first year and a half in office.

Though she made her name in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office on high-profile cases — prosecuting the likes of notorious nanny Louise Woodward and lecherous priest Paul Shanley — Coakley has taken a less flashy line as AG. In her biggest case so far, she defused predecessor Tom Reilly’s noisy and futile attempt to bring criminal charges against the Big Dig contractors responsible for the death of Milena Del Valle, opting instead to negotiate behind the scenes to secure a $458 million settlement. But like pre–gubernatorial candidate Reilly, she also knows the im
portance of picking critical public fights, which for her meant introducing healthcare reforms and installing some of the nation’s more aggressive regulations for subprime mortgages.

To the frustration of her fans, Coakley tends to play down such triumphs in the press. “My only criticism is that she isn’t quite as political as she could be,” says an insider in the AG’s office. “If her goal in life were to be governor, she could be doing more.” Still, strategically, her stance is a canny one: The chronic weakness of the corner office’s current occupant is that he talks big but doesn’t deliver, and by keeping her head down, Coakley (who a source suggests has begun fundraising for a possible gubernatorial run) has already built a track record that eclipses his. —Julia Reischel



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. If it seems a little odd for the city’s most connected preacher to have spent so long in such rude lodgings, well, that’s just Pastor Ray, says Reverend Richard Richardson, associate pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. in Cambridge. “He didn’t rush to try to become something bigger than what God would have him be.”

Hammond may be humble (he declined to be photographed for this story), but he’s deeply dug in: He chairs the board of the Boston Foundation, is a trustee of the Yawkey Foundation II, and is also chairman of the Ten Point Coalition, the community group behind Boston’s successful efforts to quell gang violence in the ’90s. That combination of reticence and diverse alliances makes Hammond emblematic of the evolution of religious power in this growingly secular city, with its history of soapboxing religio-political leaders. It also sets him apart from fellow clergy like Bruce Wall and Eugene Rivers, whose barnstorming verbosity won them entrance into the halls of power — and later, summary banishment. “Ray has had a relationship with everybody who’s shared an office on the second floor since Weld. He walks in those circles,” says his friend Horace Small, head of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. While often frustrated with what he sees as Hammond’s reluctance to upset the city’s largely white power structure, Small understands it’s based in strategy as well as temperament. “With Ray, it’s like, ‘I won’t stick my neck out, because I want to be here to fight another day,'” Small says. “I understand it. I understand that this is Boston.” —Lissa Harris