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Will ‘Terminator’ Be Back ... in Politics?

Times Staff Writer

Workers readied the Boyle Heights gym for the Tuesday night victory party celebrating the passage of Proposition 49, the initiative for after-school programs. They flanked the stage with giant cutouts of Arnold Schwarzenegger hoisting two children in his arms.

A giant TV screen was tuned to the news when footage appeared of Schwarzenegger at his Pacific Palisades polling place.

“Arnold, you were just on the TV!” someone called.

The former bodybuilder turned movie star looked over.

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“Do you know how many times I’ve seen myself on a big screen, guys? What’s the matter with you?” he boomed back to laughter in the gym of the Hollenbeck Youth Center.

After 34 years in this country, he still has his Austrian accent, although now it’s less the mark of the immigrant and more the trademark of the Terminator. At 55, Schwarzenegger is possessed of a razor-sharp square jaw and jutting cheekbones -- none of it from plastic surgery or cosmetic tinkering, he said.

But throughout election day, ever mindful of the TV cameras, Schwarzenegger’s personal makeup artist was on hand for touch-ups.

Despite his denials, Schwarzenegger couldn’t help but look like someone trying out for the role of rising political star.

In the boxing ring of the youth center, Schwarzenegger verbally sparred with a succession of TV reporters. The first flurry of questions were about Proposition 49, the initiative that Schwarzenegger championed for more than a year.

“Children are our future ... we have to take care of our kids because if we don’t, they end up going to prison and that costs the state more,” he said in accented sound bites.

What reporters really wanted to know was this: Will the now wealthy star and businessman -- who is fond of saying that he could only achieve this success in America -- use the success of Proposition 49 to launch his own political career?

“Some people will say this is your ramping up for the governor’s mansion,” one reporter said.

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Arnold ducked effortlessly. “Well, if you could find the governor’s mansion, I’d say ‘Maybe,’ but there is no mansion,” he said with a laugh, referring to Gov. Gray Davis’ ranch-style house in Sacramento.

Besides, he said, “my wife would kill me if I took her there.” He laughed as if letting the reporter -- and onlookers -- in on a private joke. He’s been married 16 years to Maria Shriver, the NBC news correspondent and Kennedy family member.

As he deflected inquiries about his political ambitions, Schwarzenegger appeared every inch the charismatic candidate that California Republicans could use. He especially looked like a political candidate when he was denying that he was a political candidate.

“Right now, I want to be the leader of this movement,” Schwarzenegger said of the measure, which will pay for after-school education and recreational activities for elementary- and middle-school children in California.

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Schwarzenegger hinted last year at his political ambitions, saying that he first called friends about running for governor.

“It was immediately brought to my attention that I could win,” he said. “It was immediately brought to my attention there was a huge void in the Republican Party. It was a tremendous, enthusiastic reaction. But that does not mean I was going to jump at it.”

He said he declined to pursue the idea because of conflicts with his day job. “I found out I couldn’t get out of my obligations. It was so tied to foreign rights and toys and -- they would have had to sue me because they would have been sued. You would have seen the ad: ‘If Arnold’s best friend and producer could not trust him to do ‘Terminator 3,’ how could we trust him with the fifth-largest economy?’ You don’t want to start a campaign with that.”

“Terminator 3" opens next summer. So what about down the road?

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“Could be ....” he said before steering the conversation back to Proposition 49. He would only reveal his plans to spend Wednesday celebrating his wife’s 47th birthday. “I have a whole bunch of different gifts -- like a saddle for her horse,” he said. “And clothes -- I buy most of her clothes. I know exactly what looks good on her.”

Schwarzenegger, the father of four children, is not just a Hollywood shill for after-school programs. For more than a decade, he’s worked with Danny Hernandez, the president of the Hollenbeck Youth Center. He donated the weights in the weight room and helped set up a computer room. The actor also expanded the local Inner-City Games, conceived by Hernandez, into a national program.

“He’s a local hero here,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco at the Proposition 49 victory party.

Schwarzenegger said he was deeply involved in the campaign. “When I was on the ‘Terminator’ set in Los Angeles, as soon as I was finished with my shooting, I would go to my trailer and do fund-raising calls.”

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He put up $1 million of his own money for the $10-million initiative campaign.

Schwarzenegger’s election day started early, with reporters trailing him and Shriver as the couple voted.

“Good morning!” Schwarzenegger called to election workers. “Ready for the action?”

“Nine cameras,” whispered George Gorton, delighted by the media entourage. Gorton, the Proposition 49 campaign manager, was a top campaign aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson.

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Schwarzenegger didn’t charm everyone at the polling place.

“He’s pompous -- and has a terrible hair dye job,” said Sara Nichols, a 55-year-old election volunteer. “They treat him like God and all he does is make these violent movies. How does he reconcile all his support for children with making his fame and fortune on violent movies children shouldn’t see?”

More than 12 hours later, Schwarzenegger climbed to the stage at the Hollenbeck center. Behind him were two dozen children who had waited hours to stand with him as he gave his speech about 11 p.m. He introduced his in-laws, Eunice and Sargent Shriver. And then he thanked his wife for taking care of their children’s after-school activities.

He finished off his speech with his trademark “I’ll be back!” from the Terminator movies.

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Balloons and confetti fell on the crowd, and the children ran around the room in a frenzy.

As the gym emptied, Hernandez, standing on the floor, glanced up at the windows on the second floor that look down on the gym. He saw Schwarzenegger.

The movie star grinned at him and flexed his biceps.


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