Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

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


Case Study: Joshua Boger, founder, president, and CEO, Vertex Pharmaceuticals

IF YOU TALK ABOUT BUSINESS in Massachusetts, you’re increasingly talking about science, as well. If you talk about science, you’re also talking about academia. And if you talk about the interaction of these three things, you end up talking about one guy: Joshua Boger.

Boger holds outsize clout despite the fact that his Cambridge-based biotech firm isn’t nearly the size of Henri Termeer’s Genzyme or Jim Mullen’s Biogen Idec. That’s mainly because, unlike many of his peers — who feel that since they represent the future, politicians should come to them — he sees the value of involving himself deeply in Beacon Hill affairs. It was Boger, for instance, who took the lead in pushing Deval Patrick to take up his $1 billion life-sciences incentives package, doing so in a way that wisely recognized the broader benefits: The more jobs created, the more tax dollars for funding the governor’s many campaign promises.

The same MO informs Boger’s pull-enhancing extracurricular pursuits. He is the first biotech guy in nearly a decade to chair the board of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, and also chairs a national biotech trade organization. He sits on the board of fellows at Harvard Medical School, is a contributor to the Greater Boston Food Bank’s capital campaign, and last year flew to China with Patrick to drum up business for Bay State companies. As the man himself notes, “I don’t see boundaries all that clearly.” Whether his industry counterparts become big civic players, too, depends on their ability to develop the same tendency. —Paul Kix

How Harvard’s new president is proving the doubters wrong.

When she was picked for the job last year, detractors wondered whether an unassuming history scholar would have the chops to run the World’s Greatest University at a time of such upheaval. But Drew Gilpin Faust has proven a savvy operator. With Congress making noises about forcing schools with multibillion-dollar endowments to offset tuition costs for middle- and low-income students, Faust unveiled a program that allowed families making between $120,000 and $180,000 a year to pay 10 percent of their income, and families making under $120,000 to pay less, down to free tuition for those at $60,000 and below. The plan was only a minor improvement on the school’s former policy, but the timing permitted the normally rapacious Harvard to seem downright benevolent—even though, had Washington been dictating the terms, it would have been compelled to shell out considerably more. No fewer than seven colleges have since aped Faust’s move.

Case Study: The Beacon Hill Civic Association

NOT TOO LONG AGO, City Hall was in the habit of steamrolling neighborhood opposition to development, and indeed, whole neighborhoods. It’s since decided there are more votes in appeasing constituent discontent than in hurling a wrecking ball at it. And so it is that anyone looking to put up a building, serve booze, or so much as engage the services of a valet company in Boston’s politically active quarters first has to meet the locals and kiss their rings. “Some residents are more interested in preserving the character and quality of their neighborhood,” says someone close to the development industry. “Then there are professional community activists. For them, it’s a sport.”

While similar groups in the Back Bay and Brighton have exerted plenty of influence in the past, at the moment it’s the Beacon Hill Civic Association that’s flexing its muscles better than anyone in town, led by chairman

John Achatz, president Lori Bate, institutional planning committee co-chair Ania Camargo, and executive director Suzanne Besser. “It’s amazing the way they’re organized, their depth,” says the development source. “It’s fantastic. I don’t envy Suffolk, having to deal with that.”

Suffolk, of course, would be Suffolk University, which two years ago, with the mayor’s support, tried to plop a 500-bed dorm by the Adams Courthouse—not a charming residential block by any stretch. Neighborhood residents, spurred on by the association, rose up against the plan, waging a campaign the Globe neatly summarized as “bruising.” Menino withdrew his support; the university shifted the dorm project to Downtown Crossing, where, not for nothing, there are few neighbors to mount uprisings. Suffolk is now drafting long-range development plans that will include the target of housing most of its students on campus; Achatz’s group, meanwhile, continues to push the school to “channel expansion” away from Beacon Hill. As one City Hall source says: “It’s clear where they won’t be able to build.” —Paul McMorrow