Security was tight at Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center on Sunday for a vigil to remember the 11 lives lost in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Cars entered through a gate staffed by security officers, organizers banned bags from the facility, and the Austin Police Department came out in force. Amidst the grieving, one woman said to another, "This must be the safest place in the whole world right now."
The auditorium was packed with members of Austin's Jewish community, members of other faith-based groups, and elected officials across jurisdictions seeking comfort in the aftermath of the massacre. City Council Member Alison Alter and her family, members of Congregation Beth Israel, sat in the front row alongside her colleague Ann Kitchen. Mayor Steve Adler, who has worked extensively with the Anti-Defamation League, gave a stirring speech on confronting a new wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the country.
The hate he's seen over the past year has made him recall discussing with his grandparents the anti-Semitism they fled in Europe. "That hate is horrifying, but Jews do not own being its target. That very same hate kills African-Americans in the basement of a Charleston church. It takes lives in a mosque in Quebec. It targets the LGBT community in Orlando. It murders Buddhists in an Arizona temple. It is the same hate, and we are all in this together."
Adler called on the community to renew its commitment to standing together whenever it sees groups targeted, whatever the scale of the transgression. He recalled an incident a couple of years ago, when mainstream media outlets asked him to respond when his name appeared in an anti-Semitic and transphobic article. "I minimized it and its impact, and I was wrong," Adler said. "And I resolve to do better. We must all resolve to do better."
The mayor, unfortunately, did not have to wait long to fulfill his pledge. Adler's office sent out a press release on Monday afternoon calling out IndyAustin for an attack ad that included an image of Pepe the Frog (see "COTA Withdraws Support From IndyAustin" and "Pepe's the Least of It"). "I am troubled that a symbol used in anti-Semitic communications by members of the alt-right throughout the United States would now appear in an Austin campaign," Adler said in the statement.
This Council watcher was delighted to spend a little bit of her Sunday perusing a Facebook tangle between Austin Community Law Center founder Brian McGiverin and Michael Searle, former chief of staff to Council Member Ellen Troxclair and current executive director of the Austin Civic Fund that got Proposition K on the ballot. Supporters like Searle frame the third-party audit measure as a triumph of open government, while critics like McGiverin suggest it's a thinly veiled push to privatize more of city government. ("City Slickers," Oct. 12).
As part of the spat, McGiverin asked Searle to disclose the Civic Fund donors – his refusal to do so prompted a pending city ethics complaint – to which Searle responded, "I have no new information for you. Donors, all of which are Austin residents, gave to the Austin Civic Fund. We, the Austin Civic Fund, which I am ED of, decided to fund the petition." (Searle is also treasurer of the Yes on Prop K PAC currently campaigning for the measure, which has disclosed its donors, among the largest of which is Troxclair herself.)
The libertarian Searle continues to insert himself into city politics beyond Prop K. He also serves as Council Member Ora Houston's nominee on the city's new Tourism Commission and has sought to expose corruption within the Austin Convention Center and Visit Austin that the Office of the City Auditor (which reported on both last year) hasn't found. While Searle looks and presents himself differently than many libertarian activists, his objective – limiting government and taxes (even hotel taxes) in the name of efficiency – remains the same.
Council returns today to discuss plans for the Travis County Expo Center, Camelback PUD on second and third readings, and an interlocal agreement on parks with Austin ISD.
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