Born in a village nearby and schooled in Graz, Mr. Schwarzenegger was an honorary citizen and holder of the town's Ring of Honor. Most conspicuously, the local sports stadium was named after him.
But early on Monday, under cover of darkness, his name was removed from the arena in a sort of uncontested divorce between the California governor and the town council, which had been horrified that he rejected pleas to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, former leader of the Crips gang, who was executed by the state of California two weeks ago.
The 15,000-seat stadium had been named after Mr. Schwarzenegger in 1997 as an act of both self-promotion and fealty toward the poor farmer's son and international celebrity, who has always identified Graz as his native place.
But when he declined to commute Mr. Williams's death penalty, the reaction was swift and angry in Graz, which, like most places in Europe, sees the death penalty as a medieval atrocity.
"I submitted a petition to the City Council to remove his name from the stadium, and to take away his status as an honorary citizen," Sigrid Binder, the leader of the Green Party, said in a recent interview. "The petition was accepted by a majority on the council."
Before a formal vote was taken on the petition, however, Mr. Schwarzenegger made a kind of pre-emptive strike, writing a letter to Siegfried Nagl, the town's conservative mayor, withdrawing Graz's right to use his name in association with the stadium.
There will be other death penalty decisions ahead, he wrote, and so he decided to spare the responsible politicians of Graz further concern.
"It was a clever step," Ms. Binder said. "He took the initiative," she continued, and then suggested a bit of the local politics that had entered into the matter. "It was possible for him to do so," she said, "because the mayor didn't have the courage to take a clear position on this point."
Needless to say, Mr. Nagl, a member of the conservative People's Party, who opposed the name-removal initiative, does not agree.
He is against the death penalty, he said in an interview, and on Dec. 1, he wrote a letter to Mr. Schwarzenegger pleading for clemency for Mr. Williams. But he blames the leftist majority on the City Council - consisting of Greens, Social Democrats and two Communists - for trying to score some local political points at Mr. Schwarzenegger's and, he believes, Graz's own expense.
"One stands by a friend and a great citizen of our city and does not drag his name through the mud even when there is a difference of opinion," Mr. Nagl said in a letter he wrote to Mr. Schwarzenegger. "I would like to ask you to keep the Ring of Honor of the City of Graz."
The heated nature of the debate revealed how much a relatively small place like Graz, certainly a place with no military might or diplomatic power to speak of, wants to play a role as a sort of moral beacon, waging the struggle for what it considers the collective good.
Graz, a place of old onion steeples, museums and Art Nouveau architecture, designated itself five years ago, with a unanimous vote of the City Council, to be Europe's first official "city of human rights." While the designation has no juridical meaning, it provides a sort of goal to live up to.
"We are against the death penalty, not only in word, but really against the death penalty," said Wolfgang Benedek, a professor of international law at Graz University.
He said the council's reaction reflected the special circumstances surrounding Mr. Williams: a man who had written a children's book aimed at steering young people away from violence, he had already spent many years in jail, and seemed, to Europeans at least, to have reformed himself.
"Many people around the world pleaded with Mr. Schwarzenegger to show mercy in this case, and when he didn't, the city had somehow to react," Mr. Benedek said.
Mr. Benedek allows that there is an element of elite versus popular opinion on this matter. A poll by the local newspaper found that over 70 percent of the public opposed removing Mr. Schwarzenegger's name from the stadium.
This adds to a practical consideration very much on Mr. Nagl's mind: that Graz will no longer be able to count on using its special relationship with the governor to promote its image.
"We had the great classical culture on the one side," Thomas Rajakovics, the mayor's spokesman, said, referring to other important figures who are associated with Graz, from the astronomer Johannes Kepler to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, to the conductor Karl Böhm. "And on the other, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger and the popular culture. These were the two poles for us, but we're not allowed to use his name any more."
The Schwarzenegger name has, as it were, been erased. The new name is now simply Stadion Graz-Liebenau (a district of Graz), though there were other proposals. One was to name the stadium after the Crips, the gang that Mr. Williams founded, but that idea did not get widespread support. Another was to name it Hakoah, after a Jewish sports club that was banned after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.
But the first "city of human rights" did not seem quite ready for that either. It is not that there was vocal opposition but, as Ms. Binder put it, Austrians do not generally want a daily reminder of the terrible wartime past.
Meanwhile, city officials are holding on to Mr. Schwarzenegger's honorary citizenship ring, which arrived from the governor during the holidays. Mr. Rajakovics said they would keep it for him in the hope that one day he would take it back.