Big Boss Lady

CRL knows how to buy friends and influence people.

And winning influence as a lobbyist is far more complex than simply making campaign donations, she adds. You have to understand the goals and philosophy of the mayor and each councilmember and convince them that the position you're advocating is good for the city. Otherwise, you'll lose out.

As an example, she cites her successful 1985 campaign to locate the Colorado Convention Center on 14th Street. At the time, the Peña administration wanted the convention center to be located behind Union Station, and Peña was angry with her for foiling his plans. "I was not a welcome person in the administration," she says.

Today Garcia Berry's clients seem to have a good understanding of the Webb administration's goals as well. Denver wants to redevelop vacant parcels in the central city, and CRL represents Post Properties, which is turning the old St. Luke's hospital site into 1,000 new condos and apartments.

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.

Similarly, Garcia Berry is working for Forest City, the company that was awarded a city contract to redevelop the former Stapleton airport. Forest City has proposed building a huge new neighborhood at Stapleton that will include more than 12,000 homes and bring 30,000 new residents into Denver -- reportedly the largest urban infill project in the country. At a recent city council meeting, the developer assured everyone that the project would mesh with Denver's older neighborhoods and would look nothing like Highlands Ranch, a symbol to many people in Denver of everything that's wrong with the suburbs.

Forest City officials credit Garcia Berry with helping them to understand the history of the area and the concerns of the residents who already live near Stapleton. They also say she has a remarkable understanding of how decisions are made at city hall. "We hired her because Maria is better than anyone in town at understanding the process of moving things through city government," says John Lehigh, Forest City executive vice president. "She's in touch with the life and pulse of the Denver community. Her understanding of the community is a very valuable asset to anyone who uses her."

Garcia Berry points to Forest City as an example of how she has brought her 1970s idealism into the '90s. "The redevelopment of Stapleton will impact the whole Front Range," she says. "Getting involved with a client that's going to take a boarded-up airport and turn it into a new city neighborhood -- that's pretty significant."

While political deal-makers like Garcia Berry are held in disrepute by much of the public, she insists the idea that the Denver City Council is in her pocket is a myth. "Getting your phone call returned is not the same thing as getting a vote," says Garcia Berry. "Money doesn't get you a vote. People vote for all sorts of reasons, especially in local government. They vote for what their constituents want."

Denver City Councilman Ted Hackworth says he has often disagreed with Garcia Berry over issues. Hackworth opposes expanding the convention center, for example, but he has endorsed the AT&T franchise agreement and even agreed to appear in controversial television commercials promoting it.

Hackworth says he can disagree with Garcia Berry and still have a good relationship with her. "She doesn't like my opposition to the convention center, but we're still friends," he says. "She always says, 'Here's the reason why we see this as positive for Denver.' You can take it or leave it."

On the AT&T franchise issue, Hackworth says he became convinced that AT&T would offer the first real competition to US West for residential telephone service in Denver when it finishes rebuilding the local cable system. He says Garcia Berry's staff is especially adept at providing councilmembers with background information on the issues for which they are lobbying. "They can sometimes provide you with better information than you'd get from any other source," says Hackworth.

To help maintain her good relationship with the council, Garcia Berry picks up the tab for food and drinks every Monday after council meetings at the Cherokee Grill. "She has a large expense account," says a competitor. "Her clients know the wining and dining bill will be large. She greases the wheel and makes sure everybody is feeling good. Lots of breakfasts and lunches and dinners and cocktails."

Garcia Berry is especially proud of her role in negotiating compromises in sometimes bitter neighborhood disputes, including a battle between the Denver Botanic Gardens and its neighbors and one between Kaiser Permanente, which she represented, and nearby residents over a plan to expand its hospital on 20th Avenue. It was her work on the Kaiser Permanente effort that caught Ready Temporary Services owner Hannifin's eye; at the time, he lived near Kaiser and was involved in the campaign against the hospital expansion. "I met Maria ten years ago," says Hannifin. "I was the president of a neighborhood group in northeast Denver. The hospitals were expanding, and I was one of the leaders fighting that."

The group eventually entered into negotiations with the hospitals. "It could have been ugly; there could have been blood on the floor," says Hannifin. "Maria went to the hospitals and convinced them they had to deal with us. It worked out to a real good compromise. Somebody once said politics is the art of the possible, and she personifies that."

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