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Schwarzenegger Tells Hometown to Take His Name Off Stadium

Times Staff Writer

With officials in his Austrian homeland poised to strip his name from the local soccer stadium, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to beat them to it Monday, sending an indignant letter demanding that his name be removed by year’s end.

Politicians in the city of Graz had begun a petition drive to rename the stadium following Schwarzenegger’s decision to allow the execution last week of Stanley Tookie Williams. The governor’s refusal to grant clemency to the convicted murderer of four sparked outrage across Europe and revived an on-again, off-again effort in Graz to drop his name from the stadium.

In his letter, Schwarzenegger said he had heard that the Graz City Council planned to order his name removed on Jan. 19. The stadium, which seats 15,400, has carried Schwarzenegger’s name since 1997.

Schwarzenegger also wrote that he was revoking his permission for Graz to use his name in any advertising campaigns that promote the city, located 10 minutes from his hometown village of Thal.

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Mentioning a separate proposal to rescind the award of a “ring of honor” that was given to him in 1999, Schwarzenegger said in the letter that he does not want the ring any more and had sent it back.

“Since ... the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “It is already in the mail.”

Schwarzenegger’s letter suggests that more executions may be coming. Another death row inmate, Clarence Ray Allen, 75, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 17.

“In all likelihood, during my term as governor I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions,” he wrote. “In order to spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the ... stadium. You will receive related correspondence from my legal counsel shortly.”

Schwarzenegger wrote the letter himself in German. It was faxed Monday to Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl, who could not be reached for comment. The letter was translated into English by a press aide to the governor, Katherine McLane.

Last year, Austrian critics of the governor’s position on the death penalty sought to remove his name from the stadium. The Graz City Council rejected the effort but suggested it might reconsider.

An Austrian official based in Los Angeles said it has become routine for his countrymen to use Schwarzenegger’s national prominence to make political points -- in this case, to urge that the death penalty be scrapped.

Efforts to rename the stadium are “a way of gaining attention for their own cause and purposes,” said Bernard Faustenhammer, Austrian consul general in Los Angeles. “Schwarzenegger in Austria is a huge public figure.... He’s prominently present in Austrian media and almost regarded as a player in national politics.”

Schwarzenegger last visited Graz in 2004 during a quick trip to Austria in which he represented President Bush at a state funeral for President Thomas Klestil. He joked with Mayor Nagl after a meeting with regional politicians, telling him that they had something in common: Both are chief executives working with legislative bodies of diverse political backgrounds.

A spokesman for the governor said that by taking this step, Schwarzenegger deprives his critics in Austria of a platform to continually use the stadium’s name to embarrass him.

“It’s an issue that commonly comes up whenever they want to express displeasure with him as governor,” said Rob Stutzman, the governor’s communications director, “and it becomes tiresome.... You can threaten to take the name off the stadium many times, but you can only take it off once, and then it’s done.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Governor’s letter

Following is the text of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s letter to the mayor of his hometown. The governor wrote it in German; it was translated by a press aide.

December 19, 2005

Mr. Siegfried Nagl

Mayor, City of Graz

City Hall

A-1010 Graz

Austria

Dear Mister Mayor,

As you know, I was always proud to hail from Graz and my pride in my hometown continues. To me, Graz will forever be the place that nurtured me in my youth.

When I was asked in 1997 to give the former Stadium Liebenau my name, I agreed for several reasons. Firstly, I trained there as a young man. Secondly, I had hoped that my international name recognition as an athlete and actor would in turn possibly make Graz more famous and increase its tourism business. Thirdly, requests by close friends in Graz moved me to accept the honor. And fourth, I was naturally proud to be immortalized in this way by my hometown.

I have now heard that the Graz City Council appears poised to decide to rename the stadium on January 19th, 2006. The reason for this action is apparently a decision I reached as Governor of California. I rejected the clemency plea of a rightfully condemned four-time murderer after thorough review and as a result, he was executed according to the laws of this state.

In all likelihood, during my term as Governor I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions. In order to spare the responsible politicians of the City of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium. You will receive related correspondence from my legal counsel shortly. I expect the lettering to be removed by the end of 2005, and in the future, the use of my name to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way is no longer allowed.

I have also learned that a proposal has been proffered to rescind from me the city’s ring of honor. It was a beautiful day in 1999 when I received the ring at City Hall and I assumed at the time that it would be a token of sincere friendship between my hometown and me. Since, however, the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me. It is already in the mail.

In conclusion, I would like to once more expressly emphasize that I will remain with all my heart a Grazer, a Steierer and an Austrian. I look forward to visiting Graz again as soon as time allows.

With best wishes,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Source: Governor’s press office


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