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“Television Is What Gets Senators Elected”: Private-Equity Mogul Leon Black Is Building a Local TV Empire to Rival Sinclair and Fox

When a Wall Street mogul reaches a certain age and net worth, imperatives besides making a lot more money start coming into play. That’s what appears to have been driving blustery, iconoclastic private-equity mogul Leon Black (net worth: $6.4 billion) in the last few years.

There’s art, of course. In 2012, Black paid nearly $120 million for one painting, albeit Edvard Munch’s rather famous The Scream. At the time, it was the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. Last May, New York’s Museum of Modern Art elected Black its sole chairman of the board of trustees. And in November, Black and his wife, Debra, gave $40 million to MoMA as part of the museum’s ongoing renovation and expansion project. As a result, there will now be a new Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center at MoMA. Estimates are that Black has spent nearly $1 billion on his art collection, rivaling that of Steven Cohen, the billionaire hedge-fund manager who also can think of other things besides making a lot more money.

Perhaps most important, there’s power. Black isn’t planning a Trump-like assault on the White House. He and his firm, Apollo Global Management—with about $280 billion of assets under management—are subtler than that. But Black, who leveraged his mentor Michael Milken’s downfall to build a private-equity fortune, is equally ambitious. In the past year or so, on behalf of their investors, Black and one of his senior partners, David Sambur, have quietly assembled 29 local television stations, stretching from Spokane to Boston. And they have a hankering for more.

For Black, as for many other Wall Street moguls, TV represents more than just a pure-play economic opportunity. Apollo has figured out that local television is

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