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He's the New Center of Attention

May 12, 1997|ANN CONWAY

Sit next to Jerry E. Mandel at a benefit dinner and you'll likely get an earful about his grande passion: the performing arts.

He promises that. "I'll try to get you as passionately involved in the arts as I am," says Mandel, who last week was named the new president and chief operating officer of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

But you can bet your mystery chicken he won't tap you for a donation. It's not his style.

"People give to a dream," says Mandel, who is giving up his post as UC Irvine's chief fund-raiser to spearhead the center's dream to expand. "What they do is match their dream with your dream. So, I want to excite them about what we're doing."

Mandel, 57, is no stranger to the charity circuit. You don't increase private contributions to an institution by 18% the way he did last year at UCI without being out there.

"I'm accustomed to being out a number of nights a week--sometimes 10 or 12 in a row," says Mandel, who lives in Irvine with his wife, Whitney Mandel, a professor of broadcast journalism at Cal State Long Beach. "And I lunch out every day with someone. Usually breakfast too."

You can't tell it by his waistline. At 6 feet, Mandel--a conservative dresser, given to wearing pinstripe suits and tasseled loafers--is slim and fit.

His secret? A rigorous exercise schedule and low-fat diet. You can catch him doing aerobic exercise at least five days a week at the Sports Club Irvine. Three of those days, he'll also be lifting weights.

And when it comes to those charity dinners, you'll find him dining on veggies, fish or chicken. "I stay away from appetizers and meats," he says. "And I'm famous for calling ahead and asking, 'Do you have a vegetarian meal?'

"I'm very concerned about staying fit, because if you're in good shape physically, you perform better. If I'm going to be out all those nights, the only way to do it is to be in shape."

Mandel takes up his new post July 1. And while it will mostly require that he "run the center," he says, "any president of a nonprofit institution is going to devote at least 40 to 50% of his time to fund-raising."

Mandel's career suits him because he's a "people person," he says. "I love talking with people, spending time with them."

His nemesis: gloomy types. "Negative people bother me, sap my energy," he says. "To do what I do, be out that much, you have to have energy. If people take that away from you, you get tired pretty fast. I avoid negativity because it never built anything."

Before coming to UCI, Mandel was credited with raising $84 million in private funds for Cal State Long Beach in his six-year tenure as vice president for university relations and development.

The Performing Arts Center's proposed expansion includes a new concert hall, the cost of which is estimated at $100 million.

During downtime in his Irvine home, you'll likely find Mandel curled up with a book. "When I'm home, I don't want to talk," he admits. Crime novels by writers such as Patricia Cornwell are his favorite.

And when he's out with his wife and friends, look for him at jazz clubs such as the Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, says Mandel, who plays saxophone. "I hope to do more jazz at the center's Founders Hall," he says.

His travel plans are usually business-related. And now, with his new job, he suspects he'll be spending more time in New York, checking out "Broadway shows we may want to bring here," he says, smiling. "Someone's got to do it."

Mandel's own dream for the center: "I want people to drive up and see a new concert hall, where the Pacific Symphony or Opera Pacific is having a major performance, where Segerstrom Hall is booked with a major Broadway musical, where you can enjoy a jazz evening in Founders Hall, and afterward, a cabaret.

"I want the center to be the most exciting place for performing arts anywhere," combining the best of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, he says. "Where else would you want to go?"

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