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Austrian Mayor Tries to Smooth Away Rift With Schwarzenegger

Graz official expresses regret that relations have been strained over the Williams execution and reassures governor he's still admired there.

December 21, 2005|Peter Nicholas and Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — The mayor of an Austrian city wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday expressing regret that relations between the governor and his homeland have become strained over the death penalty.

He sought to reassure the governor that people from the region, which includes Schwarzenegger's hometown of Thal, still admire him despite his support for capital punishment, which many of them oppose.

"I deeply regret that your relationship with your hometown has suffered so much at the hands of the provincial actions" of local officials, wrote Siegfried Nagl, a political ally of Schwarzenegger's and mayor of Graz, a city near Thal.

"It only makes sense to stand up for a friend and great citizen of our city," the mayor wrote, "and oppose those who would drag your name through the mud."

His letter, translated by the governor's staff and made public Tuesday, was in reply to one from Schwarzenegger the day before insisting that his name be removed from the Graz soccer stadium.

Schwarzenegger was preempting a move by the Graz City Council to strip his name from the facility in protest of the recent execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. The governor's refusal to commute Williams' sentence provoked an outcry across Europe, including the governor's homeland. Another death row inmate, Clarence Ray Allen, 75, is scheduled to be executed Jan. 17.

Nagl's letter asked Schwarzenegger to reconsider his decision to return an honorary ring that the city awarded him in 1999.

"I ... hope you will keep the high award from our city, and that we will soon hear 'I'll be back' in Graz again," the mayor said.

Schwarzenegger said in his letter to Nagl on Monday that the ring had already been sent back.

Schwarzenegger told an Austrian newspaper Tuesday he is "deeply disappointed" that his support for the death penalty has soured relations with his homeland.

In an interview in Kronen Zeitung, the governor said he wanted to stop Austrian opponents of capital punishment from using the Graz stadium for death-penalty politics.

Schwarzenegger said he was "sorry that it did come to a rupture between the politicians of the city and myself."

He suggested that he feels betrayed by some of his countrymen. "Let's put it this way: I just have another notion of friendship," he told the newspaper. "Friends should stand up for each other also during hard times. That's the way I've always handled it."

The governor noted that the death penalty is supported by a majority of Californians and said he found no compelling reason to stop Williams' execution.

"I would have pardoned him if there had been convincing reasons," Schwarzenegger said.

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, Graz City Councilman Karl-Heinz Herper called Schwarzenegger's reaction to the dispute "not exactly nice."

Nicholas reported from Sacramento and Rubin from Vienna.

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