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First News Conference Reflects Changing Era

October 09, 2003|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

If there were any doubt that the recall was no ordinary election, and the winner no ordinary politician in a suit, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first news conference as governor-elect settled matters from its well-choreographed opening moments.

The stagecraft was suggestive of a presidential summit. In a green tie and light gray suit, Schwarzenegger stood against a backdrop of American and California flags, while journalists from perhaps a dozen countries clamored to get in a question. Camera shutters fired at a pace that nearly drowned out the answers when the movie actor -- now the ex-movie actor -- parted his hands or pointed a finger to illustrate a point.

There were as many questions from Austrian journalists, it seemed, as from the capital press corps. Schwarzenegger's grasp of foreign policy got an early test.

What would he do to improve relations between California and Austria, his native country, he was asked. Schwarzenegger replied that relations are pretty good already. What about Mexican President Vicente Fox? "I will receive everyone with open arms," he said.

"It was the United Colors of Media," quipped a campaign spokesman, H.D. Palmer.

Throughout his 24-minute coming out, the star seemed unflustered. Accustomed to cheers, Schwarzenegger was greeted by a tight silence when he entered a conference room of the Century Plaza hotel, where he had held his victory party the night before.

"Don't get too excited with your applause," he said.

That produced a laugh.

There was the obligatory back-and-forth about Schwarzenegger's plans to abolish the car-tax increase. But there were also persistent questions about his wife, Maria Shriver, herself a celebrity. "A fantastic partner," Schwarzenegger said. He said he wanted her to go back to work as a television journalist now that the campaign is over. "I know that it made her very happy to do that job," he said.

He offered a quick glimpse into his home life, revealing that he worked out for about an hour on his first day as governor-elect and that he was awakened by his daughter, who brought him coffee in bed and whispered in his ear, "Mr. Governor, your coffee is ready."

As a bodybuilder and an actor, Schwarzenegger marketed his image with scrupulous care. It is clear that even in his maiden turn as a political candidate, he was attentive to his image on the trail. At a rally in Sacramento on Sunday, he dramatically called for a broom -- symbolizing his pledge to sweep the capital of special interests. Then he held it aloft in his right hand.

In talking about that moment at the news conference, Schwarzenegger said: "I think it was a good visual."

Another laugh.

Most new governors get something of a honeymoon when they set up a new administration. But Schwarzenegger's victory followed a bitter campaign in which he was forced to confront accusations that he touched women inappropriately.

The questions Wednesday leaned toward policy matters. But as Schwarzenegger was leaving the stage one journalist shouted a question about the groping allegations. He did not stop to answer.

Known for his chiseled physique and feats as an action hero, Schwarzenegger reassured listeners that he is also a student of policy. He said he reads reports while he exercises and plans to devote himself fully to his new job, abandoning his movie career. "I will work as much as I can," he said. "Even if it is around the clock.

"There will be no time for movies or anything else. I will pay full attention to this job. I will take this job very seriously."

But it won't all be briefing books. After the news conference, California's next governor kept one more late-afternoon appointment: a cameo on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."

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