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Sunday Times (London, UK)
Aug 07, 2005 - 01:00 AM
by John Harlow
Heels put boot into 'Imelda' SchwarzeneggerLos Angeles, CA -- In Arnold Schwarzenegger's weekday suite at the Sacramento Hyatt Regency hotel, his gold-plated cowboy boots are protected by armed guards. Back home in Los Angeles at weekends, they rest among scores of pairs in a cavernous cupboard.
California's body-building "governator" has finally admitted to a weakness: he loves his size 11A cowboy boots. In fact he likes them so much that his wife, Maria Shriver, calls him Imelda - after another fabled shoe collector, Imelda Marcos, the former "first lady" of the Philippines.
Friends say that Schwarzenegger has acquired as many as 100 pairs of "fancy boots" and they are not cheap. Some are hand tooled by Scott Emmerich, a Texan who charges up to £40,000 a commission. Emmerich created a pair with the golden seal of California worked into the leather, which the governor keeps for official occasions.
When the cupboard is full, an old pair of boots is thrown out to make space for the latest style. "It's my rule," he sternly told a television interviewer.
Schwarzenegger, 58, may come to regret his sartorial confessions. Last week political adversaries started questioning why an Austrian-born city dweller who spends more time on his private jet than on horseback should display such a passionate devotion to a macho symbol of the American west.
Democrats in the state senate are hoping to turn the governor's personal habits into a summer scandal. They are already joking about "Bootgate". For one thing they suspect the boots have been used to exaggerate the governor's stature.
More serious questions are also being asked about Schwarzenegger's predilection for elaborately patterned footwear. Last week the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state-funded watchdog, said that it was awaiting a mandatory declaration to establish whether he had received any boots this year as gifts from local businessmen.
The Hollywood action hero was elected after declaring that he was wealthy enough not to be seduced by donations of any kind. But he has gone on to raise more money from supporters than any California governor before him.
Jamie Court, of the non-partisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said his poll ratings had slipped from a 61% approval rating to 31%, in part because he had taken so much money from big business.
"Some say he loves his cowboy boots because he likes kicking his rivals, but there is a connection between his love of gifts, such as the cigars and the sceptre he declared last year, and the bigger question of political donations and what people get for them," Court said.
Schwarzenegger aides seem unperturbed. "Cowboy boots are part of his colourful character," a spokesman said. "His children give him pairs and he buys his own. He is a big man with a big job and he fills big boots."
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