Kelly Brough meets her match at 'I Have a Dream' roast

The Colorado Statesman

When attorney Cole Finegan learned that Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Brough had good naturedly agreed to a grilling at this year’s Colorado “I Have a Dream” roast on Sept. 20, he began salivating at the prospect of getting even with the woman who succeeded him as chief of staff for then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. “When Mary Hanewall and Steve Kaplan called me,” Finegan related about the “I Have a Dream Foundation” executive director and board member, “I just said, ‘Thank you God, you’ve finally delivered.’”

Kelly holds up one of her trademark shoes and encourages guests to bid to drink out of it as a donation to the “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

And from that moment on, Finegan — managing partner at Hogan Lovell’s Denver office — began collecting tidbits for the roast. Finegan himself is a wunderkind of sorts. The suave and highly skilled attorney was recently featured in 5280 Magazine as one of Denver’s most influential people and in Colorado Law Week as Lawyer of the Decade (and probably Lawyer of the Century and Lawyer of the Millenium).

But the subject of this year’s roast — the ninth grilling of a well known citizen benefitting the local “I Have a Dream” organization — was the “40-something” Kelly Brough, whose last name’s pronunciation became fodder for some of the evening’s silliness.


Attorney Cole Finegan, chief roaster at this year’s Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation dinner, and roastee Kelly Brough, the first female head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Both Finegan and Brough served as chief of staff to former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“It was amazing the phone calls that have streamed in, the e-mails, the Federal Express, the Pony Express, anything that they could get to share with me,” Finegan revealed to more than 600 ticketholders who turned out for the dinner at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center. To date, the local organization has cumulatively raised more than $2 million to help some of Denver’s most disadvantaged youth.

Brough was preceded by past roastees Steve Farber, Mayor Wellington Webb, Mike Shanahan, Maria Garcia Berry, Mayor John Hickenlooper, Bruce Benson, Joe Blake, Rob Cohen and Kristen Richardson.

Brough is known as a tough-minded and disarming executive, but Finegan apparently had the inside track on what she’s really like. The two served together in high-powered positions in Hickenlooper’s office — Brough was deputy chief of staff under Finegan and took on his chief of staff role when he left. Before that, the talented Brough served as director of the Denver Office of Accountability and Reform.

Denver Chamber prez/roastee Kelly Brough and her predecessor Joe Blake at the Colorado
I Have a Dream Foundation dinner.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“When they asked me to do this, I did think, my God, where am I going to get the material? And then I saw the ads for the Charlie Sheen roast and I thought, well this is perfect. Charlie Sheen is Kelly Brough, isn’t he? So all I have to do is watch the roast and substitute her name... But I watched it last night and really, the language was way too clean for a Kelly Brough roast. I was shocked by that,” Finegan deadpanned as he assumed his duties as chief roaster.

He began by acknowledging — with the assistance of a video made by Comcast and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce — some of Brough’s more well known traits, such as being a complete control freak.
“The fact is, we’ve already met once today in Denver District Court,” Finegan began. “I was pretty startled when she called me and said, ‘I really need to see what’s in the roast material.’ I said, ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen.’

Mary Hanewall, executive director of Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Holli Keyser, executive assistant at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Carol Brewer, Kelly’s mother from Montana.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“And so the next thing I knew she had filed a temporary restraining order,” Finegan disclosed. “Apparently, she plays a lawyer on TV when she’s not running the Chamber. So probably her fatal mistake was she filed in Denver District Court and all the judges know her. So when we got there, I of course immediately argued that truth is an absolute defense and the judges agreed with me.”

So, co-opting one of Brough’s own phrases, Finegan warned: “Buckle up, we’re going to give you something to cry about tonight, it’s going to suck to be you.”

As he was preparing to tell all to the rapt audience of political wonks, business biggies and social gadabouts, he suddenly stopped.

‘Excuse me,’ Finegan announced, “I have a text. Oh no, it’s from Kelly. ‘You lying sack, you will pay for this.’ So the gloves are off.”

Kelly Brough poses with her two proud daughters, Taylor and Mackenzie.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

And for the next hour or so, guests heard a variety of “secrets” and inside jokes about Brough, whose new motto when she took over as president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce was reportedly: “The Denver Chamber — Where shoes come to live and fun goes to die.” (Apparently Kelly owns and wears many, many pairs of shoes which were also the brunt of several jokes that night.)

Then there was the time about six years ago, it was revealed in the infamous video by her friends, when Kelly and a few of her female colleagues were invited by well known Coloradans John Huggins and Monica Martinez to Lechuga’s, the “very swank establishment” in north Denver where Ricky Martin was apparently going to be auditioning backup singers. So they donned their tall heels and short skirts and excitedly arrived at the local establishment only to find that it wasn’t Ricky Martin on stage crooning away and looking over the takent, but Raymundo Martinez — a legend, nevertheless, in north Denver.

Southwest Airlines’ Jane McAtee, Manager of Corporate Community Affairs and Grassroots, holds a large silver bowl as Hayelom Fitsum, Dreamer Emcee, draws a lucky winner of two airline tickets. Emcee Tamara Banks is at the forefront.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Among other things learned about the guest of honor:

Kelly was born “a very, very long time ago” in Montana. She matriculated at Montana State where she majored in the 1980s equivalent of beer pong.

After reading about Denver, the mile high city, 5280, she decided to move here, so she jumped on her riding mower, came down the interstate and sadly, 5280 was what she was making a month working for the city council.

The Chamber’s Kate Horle, left, holds up a beautiful piece of pottery made by Kelly’s mother which showcases Denver and the region and contains one of Brough’s favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of understanding we were at when we created them.” Holding up the bottle of Tanqueray Gin is Robert Blankenship, chief operating officer for the Denver Chamber. And of course that’s Brough, on the right, enjoying the moment.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

In order to provide a better look at her mindset, Finegan recalled how one time when he and Brough were both working for Hickenlooper and the Mayor said, ‘Look, I will give anyone... a reward of $100 if you can come up with an idea about how we can cut costs in the city.’ And Kelly jumped up and said, ‘Cut the reward to 50 bucks.’

“And I have to say she did a fine job as the chief of staff, although I think from what I’ve read, we should have hung around, it looks like the Hancock people get paid better than we do,” Finegan continued.

Robert Hochstadt holds the Jerome P. and Anabel C. McHugh Award presented by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Brough’s been an incredible leader in the Keep Denver Competitive Campaign, acknowledged Finegan, “but it was a little embarrassing when we had to let her know that that’s really a campaign about benefit packages and not how to keep Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback for the Broncos.”

The Governor couldn’t personally attend the roast because he apparently had an ongoing card game and some closet reorganization that he was trying to focus on. But in a prepared video that was also shown at the dinner, the self-deprecating Hickenlooper spoofed a text messaging session with Brough, poking fun at both their expense. Hickenlooper did manage to pay homage to Brough when he mentioned how he had learned the importance of being very direct from her. “You know, saying it like it is. As most of you know, Kelly often does just that. I remember once she told a group of natural gas opponents to mind their own fracking business,” Hickenlooper playfully let slip.

Kelly displays a beautiful piece of artwork which depicts where her family came from in Montana as well as where they are now as a family. Her father, Larry Brewer, holds a bouquet of flowers for his daughter.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

And so it was, one fun-filled barb after another until Brough finally got up from the orange over-stuffed chair on stage and sauntered over to the microphone for a rebuttal.

“I Have a Dream,” there couldn’t be a better foundation,” Brough began on a serious note.

“What ‘I Have a Dream’ does in our community is one example of non-profit after non-profit who delivers constantly and makes such a difference for our kids. And there is no more important imperative that we can be engaged as a community than making sure our kids have the opportunity for an education to create the future we need. It’s an economic imperative and it’s an imperative from the perspective of the individual achievement.

Michelle Lucero, former deputy city attorney, and Robin Finegan, regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“I say to each of you: if you’ve not given yet, I’ll let you bid to drink out of my shoe tonight. I’m not joking. And I want a high bid because otherwise I’m going to feel very foolish about doing this. To drink out of my shoe, which is absolutely gorgeous, by the way. Totally matches my outfit,” she said as if on cue.

The evening also saw the bestowing of the McHugh Award, the organization’s highest honor, on Robert Hochstadt. Mayor Michael Hancock presented the prestigious award which saluted Hochstadt for his efforts to level the playing field in education in Colorado.

Southwest Airlines, one of the platinum sponsors of the evening, donated round trip tickets for a drawing during the evening’s festivities. Young Hayelom Fitsum, a Dreamer emcee, was awesome as he picked the lucky winner of airline tickets, which happened to be Leslie Oliver, a staffer in Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s office.

Kelly Brough
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

And guests also witnessed the premiere of the first phase of a pro-bono project by board member Eric Sondermann of SE2 public policy communications firm, which has been involved with a host of clients working in the realms of education reform and providing educational opportunities to youth from challenging circumstances.

Over the summer, the organization provided a number of young Dreamers at the Records-Rainaldi Class of fifth graders at Valdez Elementary with flip cameras as a creative outlet to express themselves and document their lives. The videos, along with interviews with community leaders and others who understand the challenges faced by these Dreamers, will live on a soon-to-be developed website, www.ColoradoEdge.org. When all of these elements come together, according to SE2, it will be known as The Edge Initiative and will point the way for the future of the Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com