By Oren Rawls

Published August 15, 2003, issue of August 15, 2003.
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Arnie the Styrian Oak: “Now he’s finally done it,” Christoph Winder writes in the August 8 issue of the liberal Austrian daily Der Standard. “Arnie, the honorable oak of Styria, Terminator and Austria’s undisputed symbol of expatriate success, overcame his scruples and on October 7 will be running for governor of California.”

From Sacramento to Graz, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 11th-hour candidacy in the Golden State’s recall election has stolen the headlines. Working with a political script in which only a Kennedy — or at least an in-law — could be cast, the Terminator turned “Running Man” has the media writing a Hollywood beginning, and just maybe a Hollywood ending.

The October 7 ballot — on which Californians will vote on whether to keep Governor Gray Davis in office and who will replace him should he be unseated — has already been dubbed “Total Recall.” Schwarzenegger’s film credits can be expected to come up frequently during the run-up to the election: When it comes to education, he’s the “Kindergarten Cop”; on security issues, he’s the “Last Action Hero” or “Conan the Barbarian” or, more likely than not, the “Terminator.”

Americans’ casting of Schwarzenegger’s inaugural political race as the latest role in the seven-time Mr. Olympia’s acting career has the high-minded Austrian paper of record ruffling the Gray Lady’s feathers.

“The American media, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, like to turn up their noses, because Schwarzenegger’s political experience is exactly zero,” Winder writes in Der Standard. “But as an incarnation of his on-screen presence, he is unbeatable.”

While the Terminator’s fame may be cause for political snobbery stateside, back in his home country, Graz’s favorite son is a source of national pride, however cautiously couched.

“Being loyal Austrians, we of course wish Arnie the absolute best possible success in the election,” Winder confesses. “But as independent political observers, we must add that the task he is facing is not trivial, but rather hard as steel — the extra-hard kind of which the young generation is made.”

* * *

Arnie in Lederhosen: At least one American journalist, though, was in no mood for the movies.

Why, Timothy Noah asks in his August 7 “Chatterbox” column on, hasn’t Schwarzenegger renounced his support for former Austrian president, United Nations secretary general and alleged Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim?

The Hollywood star endorsed the Austrian politician during his successful 1986 presidential run, even after reports surfaced of Waldheim’s complicity in Nazi atrocities. When Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver at the famed Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., Noah reports, Waldheim sent the newlyweds “a gift — a statue of Arnold, in lederhosen, bearing off Maria, who wore a dirndl.”

Equivocation on Holocaust-related issues, Noah warns, didn’t keep Waldheim out of Vienna’s presidential palace, but they just might keep Schwarzenegger out of Sacramento’s governor’s mansion.

“Rather than confront his Waldheim problem head-on, Schwarzenegger has proclaimed his disgust for Nazism, raised money for education about the Holocaust, traveled to Israel (where he met with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin), and given generously to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which in 1997 bestowed on him its National Leadership Award,” Noah writes. “Clearly, though, that won’t be enough. If Schwarzenegger doesn’t renounce Waldheim in a highly public way, he can forget about ever becoming governor of California.”

* * *

Upper West Side Story: “Peter Jennings has tossed a Molotov cocktail into a bitter Upper West Side real-estate battle,” Blair Golson reports in the weekly New York Observer. “The ABC newsman is charging that Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in America, is pulling strings to destroy the character of his neighborhood.”

At issue is a proposed plan to build a 14-story residential tower next to the historic neoclassical synagogue, across the street from Jennings’s Central Park West building. The congregation hopes to use the proceeds from the sale of the building’s high-end condominiums to help pay for the ongoing multimillion-dollar restoration of the century-old synagogue.

In a letter to Robert Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission without whose approval the plan cannot move forward, the venerable anchorman adds a touch of editorializing to his report on the neighborhood news.

“I realize we may all be a bit paranoid at the moment, but I must tell you that those of us who harbor productive feelings about government — and the governing process — feel that in this instance our rights — yes, it is not too strong a word — are being ignored by people who wish to serve their own interests at the expense of the community,” Golson quotes Jennings as writing. “Here’s what else I hear on the street: That people have lost faith in the process — the governing process — because they believe ‘the fix is in.’”

The fix, as Jennings and his neighbors see it, is the work of developer Jack Rudin, an honorary trustee of Congregation Shearith Israel and a prominent Jewish philanthropist.

“Jack Rudin’s name comes up a lot,” the New York Observer quotes Jennings as writing. “He’s done a great deal for New York City, but in this neighborhood these days I hear him discussed as a member of the synagogue who wishes to have his way, and the synagogue’s, no matter what the neighbors think.”

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