When Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad hosts President Bill Clinton for dinner on Feb. 26, the buzz will be about the Democratic National Convention in 2000. Official word isn't likely until mid-March. But as 30 Democratic leaders and donors feast on roasted beets and Moroccan-style lamb prepared by Wolfgang Puck, they'll toast Broad, whose cash and connections have made L.A. a shoo-in to play host.
The convention is just the latest effort by the 65-year-old mogul to resurrect L.A.'s image and its dying downtown. Broad, whose net worth rose to more than $3 billion after he merged his retirement-savings firm SunAmerica Inc. with American International Group Inc., wants to build a nexus of world-class cultural, academic, and sports venues in a metropolis long scorned as suburbs in search of a city.
In January, Broad joined developer Ed Roski Jr. in a $700 million-plus bid to return pro football to L.A. He has also given $28 million to local universities. In 1996, he led a drive to rescue the Disney Concert Hall, a new home for the L.A. Philharmonic, raising nearly half the $259 million construction cost.
What's behind the generosity? "This city gets a bad rap," says Broad, blaming setbacks including a recession, riots, an earthquake, and the O.J. Simpson trial. The reputation is unfair, he says, surveying the sun-drenched city and mountains from his 37th-floor office.
A single child of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, Broad says he wants to give something back to a place that let him build two major companies--the nation's largest homebuilder, Kaufman & Broad, and then SunAmerica. But he says his motivation isn't entirely pure: "I have a big ego and like people to have respect for what I've done."
It's far from certain that Broad will build the esteem he seeks. But no one doubts his drive, and having money and powerful friends doesn't hurt, either.