AUSTIN, Texas -- An Austin-based political action committee is under fire for an ad featuring a cartoon character adopted by the White Nationalist movement, as well as a transphobic exchange between one of its canvassers and a candidate for Austin City Council.
Danielle Skidmore said she was misgendered Monday outside of the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas at Austin, which has been an early voting polling place. Escue Smith, who works for IndyAustin PAC, confirmed to us the encounter involved him.
Skidmore said she overheard Smith's conversation with a voter about the petition for which he was seeking signatures. The petition seeks to reconsider the City Council's vote to recruit a Major League Soccer team and allow the private ownership group to build the 20,000-seat stadium on city-owned land.
Skidmore said Smith was misleading in his attempts to gather signatures, so she intervened and told the voter to read the entire petition language before signing.
"That's when he's like, 'Step away, sir,'" she said. "He said it again, and that's when I said, 'Ma'am.' That's when he called me 'that.'"
IndyAustin's director, Linda Curtis, first told us Tuesday night Skidmore's claim was an attempt to smear the PAC for endorsing her opponents.
"She didn't get a picture, and she has yet to describe what this person looked like," Curtis said.
Skidmore told us Wednesday she is "over it, personally."
"She was over it, so why are we having this conversation," Curtis asked.
Skidmore said she felt compelled to speak up after another issue arose from the same campaign this week.
Over the weekend, IndyAustin published a campaign ad opposing incumbent Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish, featuring Pepe the Frog. The "alt right" movement adopted the cartoon during the 2016 campaign, prompting it to become recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a symbol of "racist or anti-Semitic connotations."
"We didn't recognize it as anything other than a funny face," said Curtis, a longtime Central Texas political activist."We immediately pulled it back and apologized, and we still do."
The incident prompted a major donor to ask for his money back. Bobby Epstein is a partner in the Circuit of The Americas, which is home to Austin's new United Soccer League team, Austin Bold FC. Curtis says Epstein's money is already spent.
Skidmore said the Pepe the Frog incident prompted her to speak out about her encounter Monday with the IndyAustin paid canvasser.
"I am kind of an optimist about life, so part of me is like 'Oh whatever. I will be fine,'" she said. "But several people said, 'You need to call that out.'"