Dec 10, 2022 - News

Axios Power Players: 8 influential people in Denver

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Denver.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Denver's power players are influential people who've made a difference in our community in 2022.

Why it matters: We're rounding out the year with a newsletter dedicated to those individuals who made headlines, advanced major projects and worked behind the scenes to shape the city.

How it works: The eight people we highlight are elected officials, community activists and key members of the business community.

  • We made selections based on their expertise, a reader poll and through interviews with influential people.
  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.

1. Jared Polis

Photo: Thomas Peipert/AP

Beyond the power inherent to his position, Gov. Jared Polis emerged this year as the state's most liked elected official and its most visible leader.

Biggest move of 2022: He won re-election by 19 percentage points and helped lift Democrats to historic power in Colorado.

What to watch: How Democrats will govern with their mandate — and how they will change the state in the future — remains unclear, but Polis still has major promises to fulfill.

2. The Walton family

Rob Walton (second from right) with Greg Penner (left), Carrie Walton Penner and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post via Getty Images

Few families can compete with the clout the Waltons carry in Colorado and beyond.

Biggest move of 2022: Rob Walton's $4.65 billion purchase of the Denver Broncos in August established the family as the most influential force in Colorado. The heirs to the Walmart fortune have infused tens of millions of dollars into the state's most prominent institutions — government agencies, schools, sports teams, media outlets and nonprofits.

By the numbers: Across Colorado politics, individual members of the Walton family have donated more than $2 million to state-level campaigns from across the aisle since 2015.

3. Phil Washington

Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

Phil Washington was appointed in July to lead Denver International Airport, the largest economic engine in the state.

Biggest move of 2022: Amid looming corruption allegations related to his time leading L.A. Metro, Washington not only persuaded the Denver City Council to confirm his appointment and double the airport renovation cost to $2.3 billion, but also earned a nomination from President Biden to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.

The bottom line: Despite a series of setbacks, Washington continues to get his way.

4. Elisabeth Epps

Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

Community activist Elisabeth Epps is not afraid to challenge the status quo. And in 2022 she emerged with big victories against the legal and political orthodoxy in Denver.

Biggest move of 2022: Epps served as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Denver Police Department for its use of force to quell George Floyd protesters and won a $1 million verdict against the city.

What to watch: Epps is already making herself known in the House Democratic caucus as a loud voice on the party's far left.

5. Westside Investment Partners

Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

The future of two of Denver's most prized and sprawling properties — Loretto Heights and the defunct Park Hill Golf Course — rests in the hands of Westside Investment Partners.

  • The development company has also shaped local politics, donating tens of thousands of dollars to city politicians and funneling about $640,000 into the 2021 city election to promote the development of the golf course.

Biggest move of 2022: After a years-long debate, Westside successfully pushed through its controversial development plan for the 155-acre site.

  • The blueprint includes about 100 acres of public parks and open space, retail that's expected to include a grocery store, and several hundred units of affordable rental and for-sale homes.

6. Colorado Village Collaborative

Cole Chandler
Photo: Courtesy of Keila Mendoza of the Colorado Village Collaborative

Cole Chandler parlayed his work addressing homelessness in Denver into a job with the state, becoming the director of homeless initiatives at the state Department of Human Services this year.

Biggest move of 2022: Chandler is the first person in the position.

Zoom in: Chandler spent five years leading the Colorado Village Collaborative, which helped popularize two sheltering options for people experiencing homelessness.

  • CVC operates tiny home villages and sanctioned campsites, connecting people who stay there with additional supportive services.
  • The city has pitched in millions to run the sites.

7. Kyle Clark

Kyle Clark
Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Clark

Love him or hate him — he generates plenty of reaction9News' Kyle Clark is doing something remarkable.

  • Back at the height of the pandemic, the anchor started "Word of Thanks" on his nightly "Next" show and asked viewers to donate to a different nonprofit each week.
  • Clark and his viewers helped pay off school lunch debt in the Greeley-Evans School District; build an accessible playground at Stanley Marketplace; and bought presents for every child in Denver public housing.

Biggest move of 2022: The microgiving campaign continued into 2022 and reached a milestone in December that Clark says is his career's proudest achievement: Helping to raise a combined $10 million for 125 charities.

8. Caroline Glover

Photo: Jeff Schear/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation

Caroline Glover is the head chef of Aurora-based Annette, which has earned major accolades this year.

  • The restaurant is also known for giving back to the community, allocating 5% of its sales every Wednesday to Project Worthmore, a nonprofit that supports and provides resources to Aurora refugees.

Biggest move of 2022: The restaurant — inside Aurora's Stanley Marketplace food hall — won a James Beard award earlier this year for "Best Chef: Mountain."

What she's saying: "Restaurants aren't a luxury," she said during her James Beard acceptance speech in June. "We're essential. And it's time for us to start being treated that way."

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022

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