Let’s single out the top power brokers

powerbrokersWho are the city’s 10 principal power brokers near the end of 2013? Let’s begin by elimination.

Position counts, but not as much as you might think. It doesn’t much matter who runs the local office of Wells Fargo or any other national company. Such folks rotate in and out, rarely leaving a lasting legacy. Similarly, active-duty military stay for a tour of duty and then move on. Some return (or stay) after leaving the military and build significant careers in Colorado Springs. Mike Kazmierski, who served as garrison commander at Fort Carson, retired and then headed the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., is a good example.

Visibility doesn’t mean much. Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King are never out of the news, but lasting, tangible accomplishments have eluded both. King has been a significant player in education, but has yet to make his mark in the city. Elected officials, unless extraordinarily competent and long-serving, generally enjoy only a few years in the sun before vanishing into obscurity.

Past power is no indicator of present influence — Douglas Bruce, once the most powerful politician in Colorado, is now on probation as a convicted felon.

Longevity counts. It takes time to accumulate power, learn how to exercise it and to do so effectively. Ours is not a city of Mark Zuckerbergs, but of Rupert Murdochs — people who have risen over decades, not months.

Money counts. Creating a successful business (or businesses) brings a degree of financial independence and opens many other doors. Serving on major nonprofit boards requires at least two of the three Ws: work, wisdom and wealth. If you have all three, you’re already on a handful of powerful boards.

Effectiveness counts. Power brokers know how to form coalitions, move projects forward and make a difference. The 10 people profiled have done it all — not once or twice, but many times.

Success defines. This group may have suffered individual setbacks, but the arc of their lives leads upward. All are immersed in today’s challenges, and all might agree with Henry Ford’s famous dictum: History is bunk, or, as the motto on the Post Office Building in Washington has it, “The Past is but Prologue.”

The 10 who stand out

So here are 10 who shake our world, in alphabetical order.

Phil Anschutz. He has $10.3 billion, including The Broadmoor, The Gazette and an unparalleled record of business and philanthropic achievement. Who’s the biggest dog in the tallest grass? That would be Anschutz.

Steve Bartolin. He spearheaded the multi-year renovation and rebirth of the once dowdy and neglected Broadmoor. He sponsored a successful initiative that put the kibosh on any publicly funded convention center and wrote the famous “Bartolin Letter,” which led to the formation of the City Committee and, eventually, to a new form of city government. He’s been working closely and productively with Anschutz since the Big Dog bought The Broadmoor, so who knows — maybe Anschutz has a new and even more significant post in mind for him. We’ll see.

Scott Blackmun. Blackmun graduated from Stanford Law in 1982, was made a partner at Holme Roberts & Owen six years later, and was interim CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee by 2000. Passed over for the permanent position, he went to work for Anschutz as CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles. He came back to the Springs in 2010 to head the USOC and swiftly revitalized a quarrelsome and dysfunctional corporate culture. Blackmun’s USOC isn’t just a downtown building — it’s the city’s defining organization, one that promises to shape the city’s economy and national image.

Dick Celeste. Governor of Ohio. Ambassador to India. President of Colorado College. Wasn’t that enough? Apparently not, because Celeste is spending his “retirement” years putting together the downtown Olympic Museum. It’s at least a $50 million deal, and similar projects have foundered before. But don’t expect Celeste to fail — as he told CSBJ several weeks ago, “I’ve done a lot of asks, and I’m very confident about this one.”

Bill Hybl. The longtime CEO and board chair of El Pomar Foundation is as comfortable with power as Buck Brannaman is with a horse. Like the famous horse trainer, Hybl is guileful, gentle and subtle in exercising power. He’s been USOC president and has served on national boards and commissions, but his El Pomar accomplishments will be his legacy. And what a legacy it will be, including the World Arena, the 2007 Fine Arts Center addition, Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts and perhaps now including part of City for Champions. Hybl would never claim credit for any of those initiatives, deferring to his board and staff. That’s leadership.

Chris Jenkins. Jenkins’ reclusive father David may be the Howard Hughes of Colorado Springs, but the gregarious Chris is comfortable in the public eye. The Jenkins family contributed $800,000 to the “strong mayor” initiative, and Chris has been a key supporter of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, City for Champions and the downtown Gallery of Contemporary Art. The family-owned company, Nor’wood Development Group, owns or controls the First & Main center on Powers Boulevard, the Plaza of the Rockies and much developable land in the southwest downtown urban renewal area. Downtown may yet blossom and thrive — and if it does, Jenkins will have been a primary mover.

Kathy Loo. She has no political agenda, no need for publicity, no desire to be flattered and no interest in power games. She rescued the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo from financial crisis in the ’70s, served on City Council in the 80s and was named Colorado philanthropist of the year in 2007. Wealth has been a means, not an end. She hasn’t just written large checks to worthy organizations, also doing the hard work of leading organizations, refining projects and marshaling other donors.

Mary Lou Makepeace. The city’s first (and so far only) woman mayor served with distinction on City Council before taking over as mayor in 1997. She led the city during an expansive, progressive era, during which voters approved TOPS and the Springs Community Improvement Plan. Absent Mary Lou, there would be no America the Beautiful Park and our 1902 City Hall might still be boarded up and empty. Leaving office in 2003, she became the first director of the Gay and Lesbian Fund and now heads the Independent’s IndyGive campaign. Hers is a formidable record of achievement, and it’s far from over.

Chuck Murphy. If the Historic Preservation Alliance and the Pikes Peak Arts Commission were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t much matter as long as Murphy is still around. Murphy, who founded Murphy Constructors in 1960, is a Colorado Springs native who is responsible for saving a half-dozen iconic city buildings from the wrecker’s ball, as well as generously supporting the arts for a half-century. Unlike most of his peers, Chuck is an ardent Democrat, whose connections and credibility with state Democratic leaders (e.g., both U.S. senators and Gov. John Hickenlooper) has opened doors. Murphy sits on the nine-member Colorado Economic Development Commission, which will soon decide whether to award Colorado Springs ten of millions in state tax increment funding for the City for Champions proposal.

Pamela Shockley-Zalabak. During her tenure as UCCS chancellor, she has utterly transformed the university. Once a commuter college housed in a long-derelict TB sanitorium, UCCS is now a first-rate regional university. In an era of declining state resources for higher education, Shockley-Zalabak has presided over an era of explosive growth. Thanks to her efforts, our upstart now rivals CU-Boulder and Colorado State University. Next agenda items: a world-class sports medicine center, a new visual/performing arts center and more.

We could have listed a dozen others, but we chose to focus on those who have not only compiled a distinguished record of accomplishment but are still deeply engaged in important community projects.

On May 30, 1884, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a Memorial Day speech in Keene, N.H.

“I think,” he said, “that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

None of the 10 men and women listed above need fear such judgment.