Big Boss Lady

CRL knows how to buy friends and influence people.

A Methodist church in Westminster offered to sponsor the immigrant family, and that brought Garcia Berry to Colorado. Her father owned an accounting firm in Cuba and her mother was a schoolteacher, but in Colorado her father worked as a janitor and her mother took in ironing to make ends meet. Both eventually re-established their careers. Garcia Berry grew up in Adams County and soon found herself drawn into the passionate political culture that marked Colorado in those years. "It was the '70s, and we were all activists," remembers Garcia Berry. "I met Dick Lamm when I was sixteen."

At the time, Lamm was in the legislature and sponsoring an "environmental bill of rights." He asked high school kids like Garcia Berry to canvass neighborhoods on behalf of the bill.

Her parents refused to allow her to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder because "it was too liberal." Instead, she enrolled at CU's Denver campus and became involved in George McGovern's campaign for president. She began making the political connections that would later become so important to her success as a lobbyist. Working on that campaign, she met Jean Galloway, now a society fundraiser; Lee Hart, the wife of former senator Gary Hart; and Pearl Alperstein, a Democratic party activist from Lakewood, all of whom went on to play important roles in Colorado's civic life. "They were hard-charging and dynamic; that's how I got hooked on electoral politics," she says.

Wheeling and dealing: Denver's urban landscape reflects the work of Maria Garcia Berry and her company, CRL Associates.
Wheeling and dealing: Denver's urban landscape reflects the work of Maria Garcia Berry and her company, CRL Associates.
Vanquished: Buzz Geller learned a tough lesson when he went up against CRL.
David Rehor
Vanquished: Buzz Geller learned a tough lesson when he went up against CRL.


Previous Westword articles

This State for Sale
May 13, 1999
A Westword special report on money and influence in Colorado government.

At age eighteen, Garcia Berry was chosen to be a delegate to the 1972 Democratic convention. There she became friends with fellow delegates Norm Early and Paul Sandoval, both of whom were later elected to public office. That year she also learned just how cruel a mistress politics can be. "I was totally convinced McGovern would win," she says with a smile. "When they declared Nixon the winner, I sat there and cried."

Her involvement in politics continued, however. She became an organizer for Lamm's 1974 campaign for governor, a pivotal year in Colorado politics. Running on an environmentalist platform, Lamm stunned the state's old guard by winning the governorship and bringing dozens of young, idealistic people into state government. Among them was Garcia Berry, who went to work for Lamm as an analyst and legislative lobbyist in 1977.

Soon thereafter, she found herself in the middle of a series of public scandals that marked her for some time. In 1980 she was serving on the Regional Transportation District board when Howard Beck, RTD's executive director, was forced from his job. Garcia Berry was romantically linked to Beck, who was married, and tongues wagged all over town over her role on the board.

In 1982 Garcia Berry decided to leave the Lamm administration and strike out on her own as a consultant. She quickly received a no-bid contract from the state to work on a proposal to move some state offices to Grand Junction. That contract became front page news after allegations were made that former state senator Jim Kadlecek of Greeley -- with whom Garcia Berry had had an on-and-off romantic relationship -- had used his influence to get her the contract.

It was an inauspicious launch for CRL, which stands for "Consulting, Research and Lobbying." But over the next few years, Garcia Berry built her firm, using her extensive contacts at both the legislature and city hall. In 1988 she married state representative Chuck Berry (which also raised a stir, since Berry had previously been married to the daughter of a powerful state senator) and registered as a Republican. Because of the obvious conflict of interest, she decided to give up lobbying the legislature and instead focus her business on the city of Denver.

But scandals of the past are old news to Garcia Berry, who defines herself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative and often sounds like a Democrat when she talks about issues. She is pro-choice and campaigned against the anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992, a stance she says earned her husband a great deal of grief from some of his Colorado Springs constituents. "Will Perkins [sponsor of the amendment] and I have had untold arguments over this," she says. "I thought it was ill-conceived and mean. I had a cousin who was gay who committed suicide because of [being gay]."

When Garcia Berry gave up her involvement in the state legislature to devote herself to municipal politics, it might have seemed like a step down. But she soon discovered one of Colorado's little known political realities: The mayor of Denver in many ways wields more clout than the governor of Colorado. "The mayor of Denver is the most powerful elected official in the state," she says. "The mayor has phenomenal power."

While the governor can do little without approval from the legislature, Denver's charter gives the mayor wide-ranging authority over the city budget and all of the operations of city government. When Colorado's economy tanked in the late 1980s, the state took modest steps to try to turn things around. Denver, however, embarked on a multi-billion-dollar spending spree to spur the economy, an effort that gave us Denver International Airport, the convention center, the new central library and countless other projects in neighborhoods all over the city.

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