50 Most Powerful People

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They move things. They shake things. They have the power to get their calls returned, their projects approved and their voices heard. We present, in no particular order, 50 of Sacramento’s most influential individuals.

Power. For some of us, all it takes to feel powerful is getting our calls and e-mails answered within a day or scoring an 8 p.m. reservation at a favorite restaurant when we call at 7:45 p.m. For others, having a local news anchor, elected official or Sacramento King greet us by name is enough to cause severe ego bloat—even if the reason we were recognized had something to do with the name tag we were wearing at the time. • All of the individuals you’re about to meet are the real power players. They are doers. And just because we don’t always see them doing what they do doesn’t mean they’re not getting it done. They have influence, ability, connections, tenacity, money or some combination thereof. • Our list was compiled from scads of knowledgeable insiders and contributors, vetted by the publishers and staff of this magazine, and eventually handed off to one of the least powerful people in Sacramento: your humble columnist, for whom just imagining life at the top produces nosebleeds.

Angelo Tsakopoulos is, in many ways, a throwback: a hugely successful businessman who deploys philanthropy as both a marketing tool and a social responsibility. A devoted family man and a keen judge of people, he’s also an ardent Democrat (he entertained then-President Clinton at his Sacramento home) with the remarkable ability and resources to make and keep friends on both sides of the partisan divide. As chairman of AKT Development Corp., he’s brought his grown children into the family business—which includes land development, agriculture and even the news media—and passed along to them the mandate of community service. On the basis of his largesse, there should be scores of buildings and institutions named for him throughout the region, instead of just a few. His son Kyriakos once told us, “My father’s a great man but he doesn’t believe in doing that.” So what about that Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in downtown Sacramento? Turns out that someone else got it named for him: a former business partner and protégé named Phil Angelides.

David Taylor’s major urban-core projects have included One Capital Center, Esquire Plaza and the new $90 million Sacramento City Hall (which sits either behind or in front of the old Sacramento City Hall, depending on whether you enter the government complex from H Street or I Street, and whether you prefer old or new). While most developers have equal amounts of dreams and dollars coursing through their veins, Taylor is known as the kind of guy who delivers the goods because he sincerely believes in the product. While he builds office buildings in the suburbs, he thinks the city is where the action and the region’s future might well reside. That’s why he’s hoping to turn a segment of the long-beleaguered K Street Mall into a model of metropolitan renewal and is building the new 25-story U.S. Bank Tower at 621 Capitol Mall. If downtown Sacramento takes off in the next few years as a thriving city, don’t be surprised if someone calls much of its success Taylor-made.

Janis Besler Heaphy became the first person to carry the title of publisher at The Sacramento Bee—and one of the country’s few female daily newspaper publishers—nearly nine years ago. The soft-spoken, iron-willed Heaphy is essentially the paper’s übersalesperson: its out-front booster, philanthropist and, sure, occasional apologist. A onetime English teacher, she broke into the news business at the formidable Los Angeles Times, eventually becoming its senior vice president of advertising and marketing. A fiercely intelligent woman with a charming residue of shyness, Heaphy probably is more recognizable in business and nonprofit circles than most of The Bee’s columnists—although unlike them, her photo rarely appears in print. Perhaps this proves that true power rarely requires visual aids.

A day or two after Bob Thomas left his post as Sacramento city manager, we ran into him having lunch at the Sutter Club with Gregory Thatch, who heads up one of the region’s most influential land-use law firms. (Its client list includes Angelo Tsakopoulos, K. Hovnanian Forecast Homes, the Buzz Oates Companies, Downtown Ford, Richland Communities and the Panattoni Development Company, among many others.) For years, this talented and ubiquitous attorney has made pals of clients and clients of pals, in the process representing some of the area’s most media-covered developers and their most coveted developments. Thatch once characterized himself to a reporter as “notorious,” a self-mocking reference to his being so well-known in government circles that he saw no harm in a move to have lobbyists identify themselves at public meetings. Most recently, he helped guide the scaling back of a Tsakopoulos family project that would have seen a replica of the classic Greek Parthenon recreated atop a high-rise on Capitol Mall. Thatch probably would have hung out there a lot: This is, remember, a man with friends in high places.


Tina Thomas probably isn’t the best person to tell you’re tired. A highly regarded land use lawyer—the Sacramento County Bar Association gave her its 2005 Distinguished Attorney Award—Thomas also is a nonstop community advocate, a fundraiser, a generous donor, a wife and a mother of three predictably overachieving kids. She helped author the invaluable, oft-cited guide to the precedent-setting California Environmental Quality Act and had the temerity (and knowledge) to fight Sacramento City Hall when the latter sued Loaves and Fishes, which feeds the area’s hungry and homeless, for alleged permit violations. (The case, one of many that Thomas has taken on free of charge, was resolved in mediation.) In her spare time, when she isn’t saving programs, planets and people, Thomas can be found coaching high school teams at the Center for Youth Citizenship or helping lead the fight for such groundbreaking initiatives as 2004’s Prop. 63, which taxes incomes topping $1 million a year to fund mental health services. So go ahead: If you have a worthy cause or a complex legal problem, call Tina Thomas. Just don’t yawn during the call.

As a rule, if the general manager of a television station is successful at increasing ratings and profitability, he or she gets hired away by a station in a larger market. Elliott Troshinsky has stuck around. When he was vice president and general manager of Channel 31, the UPN affiliate became a serious player in Sacramento’s media marketplace. Nearly six years ago, he pulled onto Highway 160 and drove a few miles to downtown Sacramento to become president and general manager of KCRA-TV Channel 3/KQCA WB58. Under Troshinsky’s rule, Channel 3 maintained its historic local dominance, proving that the station is not only “where the news comes first,” as its hyperbolic slogan has it, but also where the ratings are the highest in town—both for its TV news and for its ultra-cool website. A former salesman, Troshinsky decided his NBC-TV affiliate could be every bit as innovative as its parent company: If the network’s “Today Show” can broadcast live from a glass booth at Rockefeller Center, for example, why shouldn’t Channel 3’s noon show do the same from a see-through studio at Arden Fair Mall? What he’ll do next to keep his station on top has us in suspense. Like him, we’ll stick around to see. 


Joyce Raley Teel has been bringing home the groceries for decades. The daughter and sole heir of Tom Raley, the late super marketer of supermarkets, Teel is one of the region’s most recognizable yet publicity-shy personalities. She is an energetic, fun-loving, civic-minded philanthropist who looks equally at home at the Crocker Ball and snorkeling in an exotic coral reef with her husband, Jim, with whom she co-chairs the Raley’s board of directors. The Raley’s empire now includes nearly 140 Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill and Food Source stores in Northern California, Nevada and New Mexico, which has placed Teel on The Forbes 400 Richest Americans list—and on every nonprofit fundraiser’s speed-dial.
 
Tom Sullivan has managed to combine financial savvy, media presence and conservative politics in a pleasant, button-down package—without alienating his clients, listeners and philosophical opponents. That’s a tribute to Sullivan’s easygoing on-air personality (afternoons on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK), obvious intelligence and remarkable lack of stridency. (Let us not forget that one of his closest pals, for whom he’s even done some fill-in radio work, is the shy and retiring Rush Limbaugh.) Ultimately, Sullivan’s success—the power to influence opinion and move heavy financial investors and instruments without breaking a sweat—might come down to one simple fact: People trust him not to waste their money or their time.

Carl Panattoni has admitted that when Buzz Oates invited him into the development business in 1977, he had no idea what he was doing. “I didn’t even know what side of the hammer to hold,” he told a writer for a UC Davis newsletter a few years ago. Sometime between now and then, the Sacramento native figured it out, forming a company that became the country’s largest developer of build-to-suit projects for industrial customers. Panattoni Development Co., which has fostered numerous spinoffs and split-ups, numbers more than 50 Fortune 500 companies among its clients and has offices across the country. His was one of the first building industry companies to recognize the value of computer hardware and software to manage projects and properties. Remarkably for someone with so recognizable a name, he’s managed to maintain a low personal profile: We’ve been told that some people with whom he enjoys excellent business relationships have yet to meet him face to face. They must be sure he knows what he’s doing.

Perhaps the most telling item about Paula Lorenzo’s leadership style is that she knows true leadership is not permanent. The chief executive officer of the Cache Creek Casino resort and chairwoman of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians’ charitable enterprises, Woodland native Lorenzo honchoed the lengthy development of the hugely successful gaming resort. It began life in 1985 as a tiny bingo parlor and now includes restaurants, a 200-room hotel and even its own fire station. As we went to press, other tribe members were making their way up the leadership ladder—something that Lorenzo told us two years ago was one of her personal goals. She knows that power sometimes means letting the chips fall where they may.

When Jeanne Reaves was named president and CEO of River City Bank in January 1999, she not only walked into a new job, she stepped into history, becoming the first female bank president in the region. Reaves began her banking career as a secretary at Wells Fargo Bank 45 years ago. By the time she joined River City Bank in 1990, her industry credentials were well-established and she was hired as a senior vice president. Under her direction and tutelage—and because of her undeniably warm and capable persona—River City Bank has been able to create a dual brand for itself: as a true community resource involved with more than 300 local charities and as a serious player in the finance industry, with assets of more than $785 million as well as 13 branches throughout the region and two more on the way this year. Apparently, Reaves isn’t done making history.  

By the time you read this, termed-out Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, who served for six years, should be well on his way to being tuned-in State Senator Darrell Steinberg. In the meantime, he’s been hired by the Sacramento Kings to help negotiate a deal with the city and county of Sacramento to finance a new arena. A former member of the Sacramento City Council (on which he also served for six years), the San Francisco-born Steinberg is one of those political rarities: an elected official who’s equally respected by his opponents and admirers. We speculated in this magazine not long ago that one of the reasons for Steinberg’s success is his unequaled ability to run a meeting and, even better, to know when to end one. An attorney who received his law degree from UC Davis, he’s been a fierce advocate for mental health and other social service programs (he co-authored Prop. 63), education, consumer protection, public safety, the environment and cultural diversity. And while he’s won enough awards to open a separate office or build himself a small shrine, Steinberg is known for being task-oriented: Don’t be surprised if, upon winning office, he picks up right where he left off in the Assembly, pursuing such unfinished business as sales-tax reform, one of his rare—and no doubt temporary—political defeats. 

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon told a business audience this spring that he’s gay. The announcement made it to the front page of The Sacramento Bee, was reported on local television newscasts, was used in a documentary on a cable station and immediately changed . . . nothing. Maybe that’s because Cabaldon already had so distinguished himself in the political community as a leader, visionary and doer that his sexual orientation was, for most, beyond the point. On Cabaldon’s watch, West Sac, the formerly unincorporated patch of Yolo County that was best-known as the home of Club Pheasant, has become the home of the Sacramento River Cats Triple-A baseball team and an IKEA store and is one of the hottest development (and redevelopment) spots in the region. Maybe it took someone who’d been in the closet to bring a city out of the shadows.

The more you follow the career of Kevin Johnson, the more appropriate it seems that he played professional basketball for a team called the Phoenix Suns. He’s all about things rising from the ashes and outlooks turning brighter. The Sacramento native’s one-man renaissance of Oak Park began when he founded the nonprofit St. HOPE Academy back in 1989 to introduce after-school educational programs to underserved neighborhood kids. (Talk about power: He even got Starbucks to open a branch in the area, which had been a traditional underperformer for most retail and restaurants.) Johnson has called education this century’s “civil rights issue,” and he’s been bringing his resources, contacts and considerable charm to the battlefield. He worked to reinvent the underperforming Sacramento High School as a charter school, launched a charter elementary school (Public School 7) and revived the community’s 91-year-old Guild Theater as an arts-and-culture center. Then he did something really impressive: He became the subject of a profile on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” this spring as the two launched an esteem- and knowledge-building website for high school students, standup.org. You go, guy.

If you’re in the market for a stereotypical, pinky-ringed, cigar-puffing, damn-the-ecology, garishly garbed developer, Bill Parker is likely to disappoint you. The managing partner of the development team that built the Serrano country club/golf course community in El Dorado Hills, Riverlake in Sacramento’s Pocket area and The Parkway in Folsom, the white-haired, tanned Parker is a natty dresser with a penchant for Ralph Lauren, whom he resembles. Parker has built his communities—which will include Marble Valley, just down the road from Serrano—throughout the past two decades with tenacity, intelligence and enviable environmental standards. Serrano was one of the first major developments in the state to use recycled water to maintain its golf courses and lawns, while The Parkway preserves trails that wend their way throughout the grid of homes and natural habitat. When the Sierra foothills asbestos scare was in full, toxic flower, Parker did something atypical for a businessman who had everything to lose: He faced the issue head-on, brought in experts to sample the soils and made the study results public. Serrano came out clean—as clean, you might say, as one of Parker’s crisp, white shirts.

Newspaper executives don’t usually make headlines of their own, especially not in rival newspapers. Nobody seems to have told that to Gary Pruitt, the risk-taking chairman and CEO of The McClatchy Co., owner of The Sacramento Bee. Pruitt, who’s also the new chairman of the charitable Irvine Foundation, became a somewhat amused media darling this spring when first he announced that his company was buying the Knight Ridder newspaper chain for $4.5 billion—and then, a few days later, that he’d be selling off the chain’s underperforming papers, including the prize-winning San Jose Mercury News, which he has proceeded with. Pruitt, who’s led the charge for The Bee to become a combined 24-hour hard-copy and online news source, took media analysts by surprise; they’d been busy agreeing with each other that the streaming audio we were picking up on the Internet was actually the death knell for daily newspapers. Not so, Pruitt said in interview after interview in newspapers and magazines, on radio, TV and, yes, webcasts: Newspapers simply had to do what survivor species have been doing for eons: mutate or die. Our fearless prediction: As the dust settles on the complicated series of deals and McClatchy’s stock shakes off the cobwebs of Wall Street skepticism, people may start to see Pruitt as the guy who helped save the newspaper business from itself. Who knows? It might even make headlines.  

Although Tom Gagen, CEO of Sutter Medical Center, has worked in the health care industry for three decades, his current assignment—overseeing the massive renovation of Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento—has got to be his largest. (Insiders are guesstimating a final tab of close to half a billion bucks.) But size isn’t everything: Gagen also has managed to quell what could have turned into a major uprising of community activists and political leaders who didn’t want to see their beloved midtown turned into a monstrously impersonal-looking campus of clinics. So, mixed into the blueprints are more than two dozen condos and a block that will include a new children’s theater, restaurants and stores. By listening to Sutter’s neighbors, Gagen demonstrated an ability to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

While Mort Friedman and Marci Friedman are individual powerhouses in Sacramento business, politics and the arts, as a couple they’re right up there with those other forces of nature like wind, rain and sunshine. It’s sometimes easy to forget that Mort—a developer and owner of shopping centers, a community activist who helped found the influential Capital Unity Council after the firebombings of local Jewish temples, and a prodigious benefactor of the arts—used to be known principally as one of the most successful and feared litigators in Northern California. Meanwhile, don’t ever refer to Marci as merely his bride. During the past few years, she’s chaired the largest fundraising effort on behalf of the Crocker Art Museum in its history, the goal being to raise at least $78 million to build a 100,000-square-foot expansion. (She and Mort chipped in the first $5 million.) Marci told us not long ago that once the undertaking was under way, she mentioned to her husband that she might want to find someone to co-chair the massive campaign and asked if he could recommend anyone. “He cleared his throat and said, ‘Well, uh, what about me?’” she recalled. “I took him up on it right away.” And now you know how power gets brokered behind closed doors. 

You may want to think twice about calling Claire Pomeroy’s personality infectious: It’s deserved, but because the dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine is a globally known expert in infectious diseases, it may sound like a dubious compliment. Pomeroy was one of UCD’s most highly prized hires, the beneficiary of a nationwide search to run the university’s health system, which has an annual budget of more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. As it frequently goes with nationwide searches (paging Sac City Manager Ray Kerridge), the ideal candidate was already in-house: Pomeroy had been the School of Medicine’s deeply respected second-in-command since 2003. We’re anticipating that in her new role, Pomeroy’s reputation will continue to spread.  

Not long ago, the development community thought that Harry Elliott III was, as he told us a few years back, either “insane or brilliant.” In the midst of the last building-industry downturn, which extended into the early 1990s, he steadfastly refused to sell or discount a huge tract of land his company owned just off Highway 50 near the city of Folsom. To pay for the upkeep, he went off and developed in neighboring, less hard-hit states and used the money he earned there to hang onto what he had here. Then things here took off. Today, the Broadstone residential communities and their surrounding businesses are thriving. And Elliott wryly notes that the earlier, dual-choice assessment of him was “probably accurate.”   
Amador Bustos, the CEO of Bustos Media, which owns scores of Spanish-language radio stations and used to own the Z-Spanish Radio network (which it unloaded six years ago for a cool $475 million), is a classic American success story: an immigrant who was rewarded for hard work and a strong business sensibility. Bustos understood early on that the winds of change were blowing into California and the rest of the United States from his native Mexico. Today, the Spanish-language/Hispanic culture market in the United States is estimated at more than $700 billion.

Anyone who thinks that government moves at a slightly slower pace than glaciers should note this: Doris Matsui’s husband, 5th District Congressman Robert T. Matsui, died unexpectedly on Jan. 1, 2005 and, on March 8, she won a special election to serve out his term and was sworn in March 10. At the time of Bob Matsui’s death, political reporters and consultants managed to round up the usual suspects to succeed him—that cadre of musical chair-playing Democrats who seem to always be available to pounce on any available seat. But Doris Matsui not only had been Bob’s closest political adviser. She also was an influential advocate who’d served in President Clinton’s administration as a liaison between the public and private sectors (to push through his economic programs), and had been a member of the Meridian International Center Board of Trustees, working with the U. S. State Department to conduct professional international exchange programs with 140 countries. Doris Matsui’s entry into the race (which she won with nearly 70 percent of the vote) made the wannabes’ dreams of glory fade away. Currently, Matsui has adopted flood control and lobbying reform as her main causes. But since members of the U.S. House of Representatives only serve two-year terms, her primary activity, if she wants to accomplish anything, will be to keep getting re-elected. That’s why they call it running for office.
 
It made great sense to name the tidy performance space within the cavernous Sacramento Memorial Auditorium the Jean Runyon Little Theatre because there’s always been something a little theatrical about Jean Runyon. The word “indefatigable” was probably coined for this advertising and public relations whirlwind, a partner of Runyon, Saltzman & Einhorn, who knows absolutely everybody. A former amateur actress (and Carol Channing sound-alike), Runyon has represented some of the region’s biggest corporate and nonprofit accounts—from Sacramento Metropolitan Airport to Comcast—while suffering some of life’s worst setbacks: She’s buried successive husbands and battled a succession of personal illnesses. Through it all, she’s remained witty, stylish, strategic and—as anyone who ever got on her bad side would confirm—ferocious. If she ever decides to retire, she’ll certainly be a tough act to follow.

Richie Ross’ name makes him sound more like a squeaky-clean character from “Happy Days” than one of the most sought-after consultants in the always-rough, often-dirty game of campaign politics. In three decades, he’s piled up an extraordinary record of wins for Democratic Party players and causes—so much so that the mere mention of his incongruously boyish name can instantly produce peptic ulcers in his opponents’ campaign strategists. Ross’ clients have included the United Farm Workers, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (the man who might have been king had a guy named Arnold not joined the race to replace Gray Davis as governor), the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians (which Ross talked into donating $1.5 million to Bustamante’s stillborn campaign), former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, former Senate President John Burton and former Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg. Not even Ross, who founded his consulting firm in the 1980s, can help every one of his clients win every election every time out, but he provides each of them with a service that’s as pricey as it is priceless: a fighting chance.

Sacramento City Manager Ray Kerridge has resurrected a unique element in public service: public service. The London native, who spent more than two decades helping Portland, Ore., achieve its status as the city Sacramento most wants to be, believes that city government should strive to provide a higher level of customer responsiveness—and higher levels of buildings. He wants to see 60 new high-rises built in the city to accommodate the 20,000 new residents the City Council wants to bring downtown in the next several years. He’s hired in-house architects, streamlined the planning process, made himself accessible to reporters and, in our experience, has never said during an interview, “By the way, that last remark was off the record.” This devoted public servant understands the meaning of “public.”
  
It wouldn’t be disrespectful to say that one of the most productive activities in Dr. William Lee Sr.’s workday is having lunch. For more than three decades, the charming and resourceful owner and publisher of the Sacramento Observer, one of the most successful African-American newspapers in the country, has managed to insert himself and his media empire into the daily political and cultural life of the region. (The paper’s annual Black Expo, which hosted 41,000 people in February 2006, has become one of the region’s best-attended fairs.) Lee’s easygoing nature can be deceptive, making him appear to be less of a local kingmaker than he occasionally has been. But when you start adding up the number of local electeds who’ve sought him out for endorsements of their campaigns, community plans, causes and characters throughout the years—usually, over lunch—a different picture emerges. Any way you frame it, it’s a picture of power.  

Wayne Thiebaud freely admits he started doing oil paintings of pies because he’d always enjoyed eating pie. Today, some of those pie paintings are worth millions of dollars—and Thiebaud, eight decades into his residency on the planet, has become its most famous living artist. A soft-spoken man who, unlike some of his counterparts, has never purported to be a “Bay Area” artist, Thiebaud jokes that UC Davis still lets him teach there because he’s too old to hire so they get him for free. Not quite. Artists, writers and students literally travel the world to seek an audience with him. And this season, the Sacramento Philharmonic will present the world premiere of a musical piece inspired by Thiebaud’s work, written by another world-famous artist: André Previn. So how does a living legend spend his golden years? When he isn’t painting or teaching or showing up at international retrospectives of his work, he pops over to an East Sacramento club and plays a few sets of tennis with friends his own age. They usually stay for lunch. No word on whether pie’s on the menu.   

No matter how many television shows depict women (usually in tight business suits and gravity-defying pumps) putting away perps, there really aren’t that many top female law enforcers in the United States. Sacramento County has one of the best, however: District Attorney Jan Scully, who was first elected to her post 12 years ago. And while Scully is a native Sacramentan who attended Loretto High School, Sacramento State and Lincoln Law School, she’s also developed a statewide presence and national reputation for her activism on such issues as domestic violence, racial profiling and crimes against the elderly. She’s going for a fourth consecutive term as DA this fall and, as we went to press, the odds were good that she’d be running unopposed for the third time in a row. Now if only she had her own TV show . . .

Owning an eatery can eat you alive. In addition to serving great food, you’d better have an accessible and attractive location, an eager and educable staff, and the kind of business sensibility that encompasses such day-to-day considerations as leases, liability and portion control. For the past 20-plus years, Randy Paragary and his partners have dreamed up and run some of Sacramento’s signature restaurants, including Esquire Grill, Centro Cocina Mexicana and, of course, Paragary’s Bar and Oven (he’s currently building one in Stockton), among others. Paragary is both self-confident and self-effacing. Even in his own restaurants, he never does those yes-it’s-really-me struts favored by certain TV anchors and electeds. He doesn’t need to. His name alone guarantees he’ll receive return calls from potential investors, building-permit officers and food writers—and that the rest of us will receive good food and service in a bustling environment.    

Barbara Hayes, executive director of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, manages to share the credit when she helps the region land a major new company. Cheerful, attractive and well-spoken, she’s not only essentially a goodwill ambassador for business but also a finance-savvy professional who knows how to make transactions pencil out. During her reign since 2000—and when she served as the organization’s deputy director for six years prior to that—SACTO helped to attract to the region such major companies as Verizon Wireless, Kikkoman Foods, JetBlue Airways, Oracle and Apple Computer. What gets very little attention is the work Hayes occasionally does behind the scenes to keep a major company—say, Blue Diamond Growers—from leaving the area. Her diligence proves that sometimes power is more measurable by the things you don’t let happen than those you do.  

If name recognition is a plus for politicians, Assemblyman Roger Niello entered the game several points ahead of the competition. A CPA who was first elected to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors seven years ago in a special election, he had what marketing people call a “brand”: his family’s high-end car dealerships. But Niello was already known for much more than his automotive acumen by the time he sought public office. He’d been president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Capital Area Political Action Committee, an influential group of businesspeople. He also was a reliable community volunteer. Those informed sources that never wish their names revealed tell us that Niello has his eye on bigger elective things. Remember his name.
 
In this region, Mike Lyon and his eponymous company of more than 750 real estate agents are synonymous with professionalism, market savvy and, most essential to a nervous seller, results. Lyon Real Estate is the largest locally owned and operated real estate brokerage. It has offices, agents and lawn signs throughout the region—in Sacramento, El Dorado Hills, Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom, Davis and West Sacramento. Smart developers make pilgrimages to Lyon before they start to build their communities to discuss pricing, proximity and partnerships. What they really want to do is make sure they’ll be on Lyon’s radar. He’s the right guy to break bread with before you break ground.

Tough-as-brads, take-no-prisoners developer Frank Ramos—who’s built buildings, shopping centers and communities, solely and in high-profile partnerships—raised and spent a fortune to build the Daniel C. Palamidessi Bridge, perhaps the most important improvement in West Sac since the Port of Sacramento opened there more than four decades ago. The bridge provided a needed second gateway to the Southport area—and, in the process, created access to 6,000 developable acres, which made the folks at IKEA, now in West Sac, sit up and take notice. That bridge also helped to heal a community’s broken heart: It’s named for a West Sacramento native who died from leukemia at the age of 27. Ramos had headed up (and largely funded) the nationwide efforts to find a suitable bone marrow donor for the young man who was his godson. Today, the bridge is a thriving civic testimonial, and Ramos has a new godson: the late Palamidessi’s own son, Michael. Yes, that Frank Ramos is one tough guy.

Recovering from major life-saving surgery last year, Bishop William K. Weigand, head of the Diocese of Sacramento since 1994, must have wondered if he’d been overmedicated when he saw angels flying around the dome of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in downtown Sacramento. In fact, the religious leader had rallied to see a dream come true: the massive retrofit, restoration and renovation of the 1889 building, one of Sacramento architecture’s crown jewels. Weigand’s job is immense: The diocese encompasses 20 counties in Northern California and a population of more than 500,000 Catholics. The bishop’s blend of faith and feistiness recalls the pugnacious padres of old Hollywood films, usually played by Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy or Barry Fitzgerald. Ordained as a priest 33 years ago, in 2003 he famously denounced then-Gov. Gray Davis for the latter’s pro-abortion position, warning the Catholic politician “to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart.” Parishioners, pundits and politicos took notice: The scolding made national news. By the way, those flying angels were actually steeplejacks—experts in high-level restoration work—hired by the contractor, local firm Harbison Mahony Higgins. But you may never convince Bishop Weigand of that.

To paraphrase an old ad (“They all laughed when I sat down to play the piano”), veteran banker Peter Raffeto’s bid a few years back to start up a largely paperless financial institution was viewed somewhat skeptically by the apparently misnamed local intelligentsia. But Raffeto, former president, CEO and director of River City Bank (1975–1992), is nothing if not tenacious: With the same quiet audacity that saw him appearing on television spots for his old bank, a few years ago he founded Calnet Business Bank, whose goals were to do both traditional and “virtual” banking, serving companies whose borrowing needs might include an annual line of credit ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million and more. Calnet has been quite successful: In the past year, its total assets increased by 13 percent to nearly $177 million, deposits increased by 13.5 percent to almost $153 million, and loan activity shot up by 34.6 percent to about $27.6 million. Unbeknownst to many, Raffeto left the banking business for a few years to serve as senior vice president of Physicians Clinical Laboratory. Today, he’s back where he belongs—and you have the impression that even if he said that this time he was going to start playing piano, no one would dare to laugh.

There’s no denying that David Lucchetti married well. What’s gratifying is that his honeymoon—with his wife, success and philanthropy—has never ended. Lucchetti married Chris Anderson, whose father, the late Fred Anderson, founded Pacific Coast Building Products more than a half century ago. With Lucchetti’s help, the company has grown from a lone lumberyard into a sprawl of related business entities, including a jet charter business. (Did we mention that Lucchetti also is a pilot?) Honoring the Anderson family tradition of social responsibility, Lucchetti had the company donate $1 million of seed money to establish what’s now known as the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, which in turn helps distribute funds to other worthy causes. This influential man didn’t only marry an Anderson; he’s become wedded to his community.

Among Republican State Sen. Dave Cox’s talents, his ability to win elective office surely ranks high. During the past 20 years, people have voted him onto the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s board of directors and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, then into the California State Assembly (where he served as the leader of its Republican caucus) and, not quite two years ago, the Senate. He was one of the handful of legislators tapped to serve on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition team when the latter trounced Gray Davis in the 2004 gubernatorial recall election—an appointment that had less to do with Cox’s party affiliation than with his reputation as a hard-nosed, blunt-talking leader who was respected on both sides of the aisle. (We should add that he’d also been one of the first legislators to sign a petition to recall Davis, which might have helped.) All in all, it’s been a pretty heady political career for this longtime insurance executive who’s never stopped running—or winning.

Unless you’re a rabid Sacramento Kings fan or know the team’s owners personally, the most persistent question you probably have about Joe Maloof and Gavin Maloof is probably this: “Uh, which one’s which?” Let’s see if we can help. Big brother Joe is the president of the Maloof Companies. He’s known as a very approachable guy, whether you’re an employee, customer or representative of a worthy cause. He was a superb high school athlete in New Jersey, a defensive back at the University of New Mexico and someone you really shouldn’t play tennis with—unless you’re playing doubles and he’s your partner. Younger brother Gavin has been in the sports game ever since he took over the Houston Rockets at the age of 24, when his father died in 1980. It made him the youngest owner-operator in professional sports. Supremely articulate (as you might expect from a speech communications major), Gavin is the one reporters love to quote. The Maloofs would like the city to build them a new sports stadium, please. No, no, no, says the city . . . for the moment.

When Susan Peters lost her husband, the hugely successful developer and visionary Peter McKuen, a handful of people moved a bit too quickly to write her off as a local power broker. They didn’t realize she had always been a major player in her husband’s varied business and political adventures—a tad less eloquent of speech than he had been, but ferociously bright and tenacious. Then she decided to run for retiring Muriel Johnson’s seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Suddenly, bipartisan dollars and testimonials rained from the sky, as her supporters reminded her few detractors that this was the same woman who’d been president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce when it suddenly began to be taken seriously, successfully asserting itself into regional issues as never before. They pointed out that she understood development, the intricacies of finance and, most important of all for a local leader, the community. Campaign boasts, to be sure. But, so far, absolutely accurate. Peters won, and is now the county supervisor for District 3.
    
When he was overwhelmingly chosen to replace Gov. Gray Davis in a simultaneous recall and special election, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to attract support from Republicans, Democrats and independents. Then, on the job a few months, he managed to alienate members of all three groups with equal aplomb, calling a special election for issues the voters decided simply weren’t that special. Then he said he wanted to fix California’s infrastructure—a very former-Gov. Pat Brown kind of thing—and the love fest almost recommenced. Gov. Schwarzenegger is the state’s second movie star to hold that post. Schwarzenegger was pulling down $30 million a film when he took the political plunge, and he remains a Hollywood superstar whose weekday presence in Sacramento is credited with rejuvenating the region’s tourism industry (and certainly enriching the owners of the restaurants he frequents, including Lucca and Esquire Grill). So if his office says he’ll show up at your charity or political fundraiser, don’t just add a few folding chairs: Rent an arena. People might be mad at him again by the time of your event, but they’ll still show up. Whether they’ll do so again this fall at the polls is still an open question.

Fred Teichert, who spent this past year as president of the 400-member Rotary Club of Sacramento, is the face, heart and soul of his family’s $1 billion collection of construction industry companies. But he doesn’t run them. That job is done by his cousin Jud Riggs (whose father, Lou Riggs—Fred’s uncle—ran it previously). Yet in the business, arts and social services communities, Fred Teichert is Teichert: the compassionate, everywhere-at-once executive director of a foundation that, throughout the years, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars (probably more) to nonprofit groups in the Sacramento region and beyond. The father of three high-achieving young women he’d raised as divorced father, Teichert—almost always accompanied by his wife, the tall, striking Pulitzer Prize-winning Sacramento Bee reporter Nancy Weaver Teichert—is a familiar presence at the opening of nearly every play, opera, orchestra and ballet in town. But the most gratifying openings for those groups he’s helped to survive are of the envelopes that contain generous (although rarely extravagant) checks from the Teichert Foundation. For while his family’s business builds highways and communities, Fred Teichert has devoted his life to building hope.

For her entire 31-year political career, and now as a health care consultant, Sandy Smoley has been unstoppable: an action figure, a cancer survivor, a matron of the arts. A registered nurse, Smoley was a longtime member and occasional chairwoman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, to which she was the first woman ever elected, as well as secretary of California’s Health & Welfare Agency. (This was back when Pete Wilson was governor, Gray Davis was on deck and Arnold Schwarzenegger was happy just making movies.) As a county supervisor, Smoley refused to let the fatally wounded Sacramento Symphony Orchestra die an unnatural death several years ago: Working both behind the scenes and in front of everyone who’d listen, she helped launch and support the now-flourishing Sacramento Philharmonic led by conductor Michael Morgan and executive director Jane Hill. Outspoken but introspective, Smoley now runs The Smoley Group, which consults on health care as well as state and local government issues. She is expected to run for office again by a number of her friends and advisers—who made the predictions off the record and not for attribution, of course. No one likes to anger someone who’s unstoppable.

As chancellor of UC Davis, Larry Vanderhoef is entitled to live in a beautiful campus-owned manse just a stone’s throw from the institution. This can be a definite liability when you find that house is made of glass, figurative or not. For the past couple of years, the career educator has weathered public crises related to pay, perks and personnel. But through it all, he’s retained an affable, approachable demeanor that squares well with UCD’s ambition to improve its image in Sacramento as a neighbor, not an island unto itself. UC Davis employs more than 27,000 people and generated $3.06 billion in economic activity in California during this past fiscal year, according to its recently released financial information for 2004-2005. Vanderhoef knows that his campus’s future is inextricably tied to the Sacramento area’s fiscal health, since one of the most important factors when companies consider relocating to a new city is the viability of the education environment. (Read: employee pool.) That may explain why, on Vanderhoef’s shift, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts morphed from vision to reality, while the university’s technology transfer initiative—designed to make UCD’s scientists, mathematicians and engineers available to the business world—attracted attention and, that lifeblood of academia, grants. After all, knowledge may be power, but money certainly helps.
 
It’s probably not the legacy he has had in mind, but in the Greater Sacramento region, developer Marvin T. “Buzz” Oates is indelibly linked to the functional, style-free commercial buildings known as “Buzz boxes.” Want to talk about power? A few years ago, Oates’ displeasure with the city of Sacramento’s building department—expressed by his promising to never build within the city limits again—was enough not only to send a high-ranking official packing but also to inspire the revamping of local government’s approach to customer service. Equally devout about his church and his private life, Oates once gave this writer some useful advice about investing in real estate strictly for tax purposes. “Never do anything that won’t yield a profit,” he said one night when he joined our dinner table for a few moments. “You don’t need a tax deduction unless you make a lot of money.”  

Former District 3 Congressman Doug Ose hasn’t been idle since leaving the job he held from 1999 to 2005. He just hasn’t been making a lot of noise. But count him out at your own peril. Ose is a Republican who won the once safely Democratic seat of Vic Fazio, who retired from elective office. While a number of political observers felt that Ose’s initial victory was a case of pent-up demand—that the district had become increasingly conservative but no one was willing to take on the effective Fazio—he sailed to two successive wins on his own record. A UC Berkeley business graduate, Ose made headlines during his final term by introducing a bill that targeted seven words he thought should never be broadcast over the public airwaves. Ose’s bill was a full-frontal assault on what he felt was the laxity of the Federal Communications Commission to enforce standards of decency on television. It never got very far but the issues it raised continue to reverberate, as recent fines paid by television networks for visual and verbal on-air bloopers demonstrate. While in office, Ose also served on the House’s Agriculture, Financial Services and Government Reform committees, and chaired the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs. He’s fought energy price gouging and championed tax relief. More recently, Ose and his family were holdouts in a funding deal among very powerful Natomas-area property owners (including the ubiquitous Tsakopoulos family) for a new arena.  If you haven’t guessed by now, guys like this don’t just go quietly into the night.

When James Shelby worked for SMUD’s former and unforgettable general manager, S. David Freeman, he probably found it difficult to assert his charisma: The brilliant and mercurial Freeman simply cast too large a shadow (the 10-gallon Stetson hat didn’t hurt) and didn’t like being upstaged. But as president and chief executive officer of the Greater Sacramento Urban League (Shelby has announced he plans to leave as soon as a replacement is hired), the also-mercurial Shelby has been casting his own shadow. During his tenure, he has managed to rejuvenate the venerable organization, giving it a fresh voice and some life-saving infusions of cash. The group’s annual Diversity Job Fair recently celebrated its 13th year—no mean feat, even in a town like Sacramento, which a Harvard study famously dubbed the most diverse city in the United States a few years ago. Almost no one who knows Shelby will be surprised if, in the near future, he runs for a major elective seat (he’s been the vice mayor of Citrus Heights) or political appointment; no one will be surprised if he gets one, either. Charisma delayed is not charisma denied.

For Art Savage, the sentimental quote from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams (“Build it and they will come”), has been prophetic. Savage, who owns the East Sacramento home that was the official (though rented) residence of Gov. Reagan, is the chief executive officer of the popular Sacramento River Cats Triple-A baseball team and former executive of both the San Jose Sharks and Cleveland Cavaliers. But he’s also a builder of arenas and deals: He partnered with River Cats Executive Vice President Warren Smith, Raley’s, the city of West Sacramento and Sacramento County to build the $40 million stadium that houses his team—just as he’d gotten arenas built for the Sharks and Cavaliers. The Texas native, named by The Sporting News as its Minor League Executive of the Year in 2000, is involved in plans to build a massive downtown sports and entertainment venue, where the Kings and Monarchs could play. A couple of brothers named Maloof would love to see him pull off the deal, as would any number of local officials who would prefer never to be known as the people who lost the NBA—and trashed the region’s field of dreams.   

Like a lot of powerful people, the robust Rancho Cordova-based developer C.C. Myers makes as many friends as enemies (and picks up his fair share of lawsuits) in his single-minded pursuit of projects and profitability. But he also took on somewhat legendary proportions when, 12 years ago, his company built, in record time, a series of replacement bridges along the Santa Monica and Interstate 5 freeways affected by the devastating Northridge earthquake in Southern California. For completing the work ahead of schedule, his company received a $14.5 million bonus from the state of California for saving it, and other agencies, as much as $1 million per day. Recently, Myers’ company enjoyed a $100 million year of heavy-engineering work. Even so, the crowning achievement of this farm-raised native Californian—who left home and school in the 10th grade—will no doubt be the Winchester Golf Course and Country Club, one of the region’s most spectacular developments, in the Sierra foothills outside Auburn. And a good place to make friends.

POWERFUL PEOPLE: WHO’S NEXT?

While many of the following individuals already have achieved power, influence and a really good table at Biba, our cadre of experts and gadflies suggests that many of them will still surprise us in the coming years. They include:

• Alexander Gonzalez, President, California State University, Sacramento—While Alexander Gonzalez would love to rebrand CSUS officially as Sacramento State, he has far bigger plans for his campus than a nickname. He wants to build a $120 million, 236,000-square-foot sports and entertainment complex—apparently, this decade’s most popular goal in Sacramento. (See the segments on Art Savage and the Maloof brothers.) But that project was scaled back recently to a $55 million wellness/recreation center, at least for the time being. Maybe it needed a good nickname.  

• Rob Fong, Sacramento City Councilmember—A former board member of the Sacramento City Unified School District, Rob Fong is known for his public sense of humor (he’s a popular master of ceremonies at fundraisers) and private power brokering. He’s the one who led the backstage coup last year that ousted City Manager Bob Thomas, who was a power player himself.

• Kelly Brothers, media and finance guy—What are the odds that a guy named Kelly Brothers would have begun his broadcasting career at KCRA-TV Channel 3, working for the Kelly brothers (Jon and the late Bob)? Brothers (singular usage) is a well-liked, easygoing pro who managed so well to retain his dignity in the anchor chair that he’s also taken seriously as a financial consultant. To borrow from “Lost In Space”: Danger, Tom Sullivan!

• Brian Vail, President, River West Investments—When Phil Angelides was elected California state treasurer seven years ago, he sold his prize-winning, headline-grabbing company to Brian Vail, an engineer who’d worked for him on a number of the communities the company had developed. Some thought Vail would be little more than a custodian—someone to hold the business together until (or if) Angelides lost an election. But Vail unleashed his own inner dervish, helping to dream up and build a host of residential projects. Now he’s working with longtime Angelides partner and mentor Angelo Tsakopoulos to build Greenbriar, a transit-oriented community in transit-happy North Natomas—one that might prompt the federal government to fork over more than $200 million to help pay for a light-rail link. Some custodian.

• Rick Rodriguez, Executive Editor, Senior Vice President, The Sacramento Bee—While Rick Rodriguez shows up every so often in the paper’s Sunday ombudsman column, every time he ventures his opinion, the ombudsman doesn’t feel compelled to comment, as did his predecessors: “He’s right, of course.” That’s not only a major change but also a boost for the paper’s (or at least the ombudsman’s) credibility. Now, with McClatchy on a newspaper-buying spree, insiders say that Rodriguez may be asked to expand his leadership to include other outlets. You read it here first.

• Cassandra H.B. Jennings, Assistant City Manager, City of Sacramento—We’re obviously not the only ones who’ve had our eyes on Cassandra Jennings, since she’s spent nearly two decades in public life—at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (ultimately, as its deputy executive director) and on such visible boards as the Oak Park Outreach Program, Florin Road Foundation and American Leadership Forum. She was one of the 2005 “Women Who Mean Business” award winners for her success in helping turn dilapidated Franklin Villa into sparkling Phoenix Park, the redevelopment agency’s first effort as a full-fledged developer, not just the financing arm, of affordable housing. Now Jennings oversees such high-profile City Hall departments as Neighborhood Services, Code Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, and Convention, Culture and Leisure. For some achievers, there’s just no evading the spotlight.

• Matt Mahood, Chief Executive Officer, Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce—Sure, he’s tall, dark and handsome, but that hasn’t slowed up Matt Mahood’s career or ambitions one iota. This natural-born leader is someone to keep an eye on—particularly if he casts his eye upon elective office in the near future.

• John Saca, Developer—The sky is no limit for this high-rise (and high-rising) developer, whose planned 53-story twin Towers at Capitol Mall reportedly has a very fat investor: the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. John Saca and CalPERS are betting the farm on the twin lures of condo and downtown living. As weary commuters start longing for the convenience of working a short walk from home—and the excitement of strolling to dinner, a play or a concert—time and gridlock may be on Saca’s side.

• Peggy Shannon, Artistic Director, Sacramento Theatre Company—Peggy Shannon, who’s also a full-time UC Davis professor, has selected all, and directed many, of this venerable playhouse’s productions for eight of its 65 years. In the past two years, she’s had the company spread its wings not only to broaden its young-people’s conservatory but also to make a successful return flight to its origins as a presenter of classic plays. The new season’s productions will include Noel Coward’s Private Lives, William Shakespeare’s Othello, an adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird and even a modern-dress, Latino version of Electra. Now, that’s entertainment.
 
• Richard Lewis, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Musical Theatre—Richard Lewis says he would have become a U.S. Navy officer but for one slight glitch: He got seasick on his first voyage, aboard (and over the rail of) the John R. Craig, a World War II-class destroyer. So he followed his late father, Music Circus co-founder Russell Lewis, into show biz, eventually grabbing CMT’s administrative reins when Leland Ball retired and moved to New York City. CMT now operates year-round, presenting its Broadway series at the Sacramento Community Center Theater in fall, winter and spring, and Music Circus productions all summer in the Wells Fargo Pavilion, on the block it shares with the Sacramento Theatre Company. Guess Lewis finally got his sea legs.

• Mark Friedman, Developer and President, Fulcrum Property—At 49 years old, Mark Friedman must be getting a little tired of having people refer to him as the son of Mort and Marci Friedman. Not that he doesn’t love his parents—it’s just that this Stanford Law School grad has managed to carve his own niche as a businessman, having developed Market Square (adjacent to Arden Fair Mall), Rocky Ridge Town Center in Roseville and Davis Commons (the shopping center that contains Borders, The Gap and, let’s get real here, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream). But his biggest undertakings to date may be West Sacramento’s waterfront, which he’s transforming into residential, foot-friendly neighborhoods, and the R Street/Crystal Ice project, which will bring a $100 million mix of stores, offices and housing to the stretch between 16th and 18th streets. Mom and Dad must be proud.

• Allen Warren, President and Chief Executive Officer, New Faze Development—Allen Warren, who once played center field for one of the New York Yankees’ minor league teams, founded his development firm 16 years ago, specializing in infill and mixed-use development. He recently lured the city of Sacramento’s well-regarded economic development director, Wendy Saunders, to come aboard as his director of project development—a move we’ve been told that may signal he’s ready to step up his activities in such underserved communities as Del Paso Heights, Antelope and South Sacramento, and possibly expand his horizons. We foresee him knocking one out of the park his next time at bat.
    
• Michael Ault, Executive Director, Downtown Sacramento  Partnership—Michael Ault, a rangy guy with glasses and a sly wit, looks like that cool young economics professor you had in college. That’s not far off the beam. He’s managed to combine financial sensibility with an unmatched talent for bringing together a diverse group of businesspeople and elected officials to create the gradual rebirth—or, according to some, the birth—of a flourishing metropolis.

• Michael Eaton, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy—We’ve been in rooms with developers who, knowing their projects wouldn’t move beyond planning commissions unless they had the blessing of the environmental community, have asked, “Is Mike Eaton available?” Not that Eaton, the former head of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, could ever be counted on to be less than green. But he’s been known in this town for decades as a reasonable, well-read and universally respected champion of smart growth and responsible development. Given all that, he’s also a delightfully self-effacing guy—which, when you’re sitting in a roomful of very large egos, can have you perched on the seat of power.