Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Longtime public servant Broadbent dies

The occupation listed on Bob Broadbent's death notice from Palm Mortuary reads simply "public servant."

More succinct words could not have been written to better describe the lifelong Nevadan who became one of Southern Nevada's most powerful political figures -- a man who took on the Las Vegas mob in the 1970s and guided McCarran International Airport through its greatest period of growth in the 1980s and '90s.

Robert N. "Bob" Broadbent, who as a politician was hailed as a skillful negotiator, an honest man and a visionary, died Saturday at Boulder City Hospital. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer. He was 77.

In his storied career that spanned nearly half a century of public service, Broadbent:

No matter how powerful he was perceived to be or whatever heights he achieved while in office, Broadbent, a Republican, considered himself merely a servant of the people.

"His integrity was of the very highest, and he was pretty clear that his reasons for serving were to make real accomplishments for the people of the community, and not just to hold office for personal credit or prestige," Clark County Commissioner and longtime friend Bruce Woodbury said.

Even while running his pharmacy in Boulder City for a quarter of a century, Broadbent refused to cut corners, demanding of his employees that two scoops of ice cream be served in every soda.

"Government, like any other business, is often a lot of arduous detail work," Broadbent wrote in an Aug. 15, 1970, Las Vegas Sun "Where I Stand" guest column. "Meeting people, listening, learning. For me, that's where it's at.

"And then, after plugging away for what sometimes seems like an eternity, we get the chance to see some of our efforts fulfilled -- a much needed service, an individual citizen's problem solved -- that's what makes it all worthwhile."

Woodbury said Broadbent saw public service as his calling.

"He found out that he had the attributes that, if put to proper service, could be of great benefit to the community and his fellow man," Woodbury said. "I know his religious faith played a role in that."

Gov. Kenny Guinn called Broadbent "simply everything you want in a public servant and a friend -- determined, hard-working, with impeccable integrity."

Late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun saw early in Broadbent's career a man who could change the face of Southern Nevada politics.

"I would say that Councilman Broadbent of Boulder City is an unusual type to be in politics," Greenspun wrote in his May 5, 1966, Where I Stand column. "He actually has the interests of the public at heart, which is somewhat refreshing."

As a member of the Clark County Liquor and Licensing Board in the mid-1970s, Broadbent spoke out against the Allen Glick/Frank Rosenthal regime at the Stardust, launching what would become the largest purge of the mob from the casino industry in Las Vegas history.

"I honestly and sincerely feel that organized crime has gotten into the operation of some of our resort hotels," then-Commissioner Broadbent said during a speaking engagement at the Republican Men's Club. He alleged that "hundreds of people on the Strip" were in key gaming positions yet had never been found suitable for licensing.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, county, state and federal agents cracked down on Strip resorts where mob activity was discovered.

In 1981 Broadbent was tabbed as a possible gubernatorial candidate, but instead chose to go to Washington to head the Department of Interior's Water and Power Resources Services.

In 1985, as assistant secretary of Water and Science, Broadbent brought the highest-ranking communist government official ever to Southern Nevada to tour the Hoover Dam.

He showed Li Peng, then-vice premier of China, the workings of the world wonder. That trip, which included a stop in the nation's capital, also resulted in the signing of a series of agreements that permitted U.S. companies to bid on nuclear energy projects in mainland China.

Two years later, Broadbent accepted the $67,000-a-year post of running McCarran. He took an annual cut in pay of about $5,000 to do a job that critics said he was not qualified to do -- a job that included overseeing a budget that exceeded $1 billion a year for what was then the nation's 21st busiest airport.

Proving his critics wrong, Broadbent oversaw more than $1 billion in improvements at the airport, including terminal expansion, a new parking garage, a new runway, a charter international terminal and the connector road to Interstate 15.

As director of aviation, Broadbent helped secure millions of federal dollars and rebuilt the North Las Vegas Air Terminal, bought the old Henderson-Sky Harbor airport and refurbished the air strip in Jean.

Ten years after taking the helm, Broadbent retired from public service in May 1997, and McCarran was the nation's ninth busiest airport.

His successor as aviation director, Randy Walker, said Broadbent was politically astute, but ultimately, "he did things because he thought they were right."

"At the airport he instilled in people the sense that the airport was a community asset, that it was important to the community and had to be run well and efficiently to be a real benefit," Walker said.

A month after leaving the post, Broadbent, at age 71, become a consultant with the Rogich Communications Group, concentrating on infrastructure, water, air quality and public land issues.

Among his projects were contracts with the Hilton and the MGM Grand to oversee the extension of a monorail line from Bally's to the Las Vegas Hilton -- a project that since has spread from the Strip to proposed downtown destinations.

"After 40 years in public service, it's exciting to be in an entrepreneurial setting," Broadbent said upon taking the private sector job. "It's an opportunity to develop new talents."

It was not the first time powerful GOP mover and shaker Sig Rogich and Broadbent had worked together. They had teamed on several political campaigns, including Paul Laxalt's Senate bid in 1964. Rogich had worked on several of Broadbent's political races, including those for Clark County Commission.

"He was like an older brother to me," said Rogich, a friend of 40 years. "Bob exemplifies the qualities so essential not only in a good leader but also in a great friend. He was an exceptional gentleman."

Laxalt said that while many newer Las Vegas residents might not know the name Bob Broadbent, "they should understand that the quality of life they enjoy in Southern Nevada is due in large measure to Bob's many contributions throughout his 40 years in public service."

Born June 19, 1926, in East Ely, Broadbent served two years in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He attended California Institute of Technology and the University of Nevada, Reno, before earning his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy at Idaho State College in 1950.

He moved to Boulder City and ran his pharmacy from 1950-1975. Broadbent also was a longtime federal bankruptcy trustee.

Broadbent first got involved in politics in the 1950s when a group was formed to create a charter for Boulder City, which at the time was run by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 1959, Broadbent was elected to the Boulder City Council. A year later, he was named the town's first mayor.

As mayor, he was a key figure in negotiating the transfer of Boulder City from the Department of the Interior to status as a municipality. The move included the transfer of 20,000 acres to the new town and securing the sewer and electric utility contracts.

As a member of the county commission, Broadbent served on a number of boards, including positions as chairman of the LVCVA and as a member of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the Clark County Sanitation District, the Regional Street and Highway Commission, the Regional Planning Commission and the Health District.

Boulder City Councilman Mike Pacini said Broadbent's personality was a major part of his effectiveness as a public official.

"When he said something, you could take it for the honest truth," Pacini said. "He had a very approachable demeanor about him that made him the kind of person that anyone, from powerful CEOs to a regular guy on the street, would feel like they could talk to him."

"When you sat around a table and you talked with him, you almost felt like you were talking with a family member," Pacini added.

Walker said Broadbent also had a stern side that he used to great effect.

"Many times people came up and told Bob, 'Well, I don't know how we can do that,' " Walker remembered. "He sometimes would get really upset with them ... That drove people to look at every angle and possibility that they might not have thought of otherwise."

From 1974-75 Broadbent served as president of the Nevada Association of Counties and, in that role, developed a reputation as a powerful lobbyist for counties and municipalities before the Nevada Legislature. He represented the counties' interests in numerous areas, including municipal and economic development, mining and agriculture.

During his stint in the Reagan administration, Broadbent got authorization to build a new visitor center at Hoover Dam. He also helped negotiate a proposal to grant the county return-flow credits for wastewater treated and returned to Lake Mead -- a deal that increased the water supply from 300,000 acre-feet to 480,000 acre-feet per year.

When Broadbent returned to Clark County in 1986, he settled a legal dispute with the airlines over fees assessed by the airport to pay for a new terminal. In doing so, he created a model for lease and use agreements adopted by airport managers nationwide.

Broadbent long worked with the Anti-Defamation League. In 1997, Broadent and longtime Las Vegan Jerry Mack were honored at the Anti-Defamation League's annual Community Service Awards Dinner.

When Mack, who has since died, accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award he paid tribute to his fellow honoree: "In my opinion, there isn't a more dedicated and more honest public servant than Bob. He has been and continues to be one of the great assets for Clark County and the state of Nevada."

Broadbent is survived by his wife, Sue Broadbent of Boulder City; two sons, Robert Broadbent and Douglas Broadbent, both of Boulder City; two daughters, Kathleen Morris of Las Vegas and Michele Walker of Boulder City; a sister, Susan Siri of Reno; 14 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Services were pending this morning.

Sun reporter

Will Oremus contributed to this story.