Power 2008: The Elements of Influence
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. Never mind that the 61-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist had no applicable development experience whatsoever. (“Most people don’t decide to build their first project, beyond their home and renovations in their bathroom, on this scale,” one local developer grouses.) He had the financial resources and, as luck would have it, the deed to an integral property next door to the proposed site. When the mayor called for bids, Belkin’s was the only one.
He remains singularly in charge. After Belkin’s bid was accepted, a number of more experienced hands knocked on his door seeking a partnership, but he opted to build his tower (to be named Trans National Place, after the company that has earned him an estimated personal fortune of $300 million) on his own, raising the equity to secure the loan himself. “You get to a certain point and you can’t spend all the money you made,” says the local developer. “He doesn’t need to do anything anymore, so for him this is probably a hobby.”
Belkin, though, insists he’s for real, and he’s got a highly specific vision for his tower. Going it alone has allowed him to maintain complete control of the project, which last year lost its original architect, the famed Renzo Piano (who reportedly quit over creative differences with the boss), and now lags a year behind schedule. And if renewed pushback emerges at the prospect of such a giant structure, not having co-owners’ worries to massage should help Belkin stay focused on his prize. Let the NIMBY nabobs complain about the threat of a large new shadow descending on Boston Common. The tower, says Belkin, is “really a reflection of Boston in the future.” —Jesse Noyes
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. In a lot of ways, George Regan is thought of as a rottweiler on a leash: He may be guarding your yard, but if he breaks his chain you’re as likely to get bitten as anyone else.
“He runs a protection racket,” says one former employee. “Clients pay him not to screw them over.” But someone else familiar with Regan’s volatile style notes it’s important to consider it within the context of Boston’s broader power dynamics, in which clout shifts slowly, grudge-holding is an honored pastime, and everyone knows everyone else. “There’s a method to the madness,” says the source. “This is a small town — when he goes crazy for them and acts like an asshole, clients like that. He has a battle mentality. He gets into the fray so his clients don’t have to. You love a guy like that.” —John Gonzalez
Blind quotes (what other kind would they be?) on three other things renowned for scaring the bejesus out of eminent Bostonians.
—Tom Nee, president, Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association: “He’s a yeller, he threatens people,” says a City Hall watcher. “He’s an absolute bully. And apparently, it works.” After famously terrorizing Mayor Menino throughout much of 2004 — picketing Democratic National Convention work sites and sending an army of cops to forcefully occupy the city council chambers — three years later Nee got what he was after when the city, fearing another blowup, finally relaxed its long-standing requirement that BPD cops live within city limits.
h;Howie Carr, columnist, Boston Herald; radio host, WRKO: “If he’s writing about you, he’s killing you,” says a local power player. Adds a City Hall insider: “People take a deep breath, open up the Herald, and pray that their names aren’t in there. He’s vicious.” And because of that, sources feed Carr information in the hopes not that he’ll help them down the road, but that he won’t murder them day in and day out, on the radio and in the paper, sometimes for years, before a reliably jaded and pissed-off audience.
—Page One: It may be a little low on cred these days, but as public humiliation goes, the Herald‘s front page is still unrivaled in its merciless effectiveness. Consider the unfortunate city councilor whose crackdown on ice cream truck music was splashed on the tab’s front page last year. “All of a sudden, I was the butt of jokes on every radio station in the state,” says the councilor (okay, it’s Sal LaMattina, who deserves credit for putting his name on the unhappy memory). “It went national. I was getting prank phone calls with ice cream truck music!”