City director candidates Catsavis, Dawson debate source of anti-gay campaign message

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 3,227 views 

A message endorsing a Fort Smith Board of Directors candidate containing a derogatory statement about the LGBTQ community has reached many people via text messages and social media, but the candidate says she did not author and does not support the message.

The message that began circulating Tuesday (Oct. 18) was for the campaign to reelect Robyn Dawson to the Director-at-Large Position 5 seat, which she has held since 2019. Dawson faces challenger Christina Catsavis. Dawson and Catsavis faced each other and Carl Nevin in a primary election Aug. 9, in which no candidate received more than 50% of the vote. Catsavis received 960 of the 2,131 votes cast. Dawson garnered 680 and Carl Nevin, a 67-year-old small business owner and factory worker who also ran for the position, received 562 votes, according to the Sebastian County Clerk’s unofficial results.

The message sent to numerous people via text message and then posted on social media touted Dawson’s qualities of focusing on fiscal responsibility, transparency, and economic growth, but added a photo of opponent Catsavis at a birthday party held earlier in the summer with the caption, “Christina is right there in the front on the left with her husband at the gay birthday party at Storm Nolan’s house.” The message ended with, “At a party for GAY PEOPLE!?! Fort Smith government is in trouble whatever happens in the next election. I guess we all need to bail out and move to Greenwood to raise our family and to live.”

Dawson said the message did not come from her. She said she sent out a message to 100 of her contacts that noted: “I’m going to send you a text that I’m asking you to copy and paste and send to as many of your contacts as possible. It would be great if you were able to send it to 50 or more. Then, if they can send it out to their contacts would be even better. Please feel free to change the wording if you like. The important thing is that we get it out soon as early voting starts October 24. I don’t need to tell you how important it is that we get the votes. Thank you so much for your continued support. The text to send out (will) come after this one.”

Dawson then sent a text that said the sender was a volunteer for Dawson’s campaign, when the upcoming election was, when and where early voting would be held and Dawson’s focus and background.

“I guess my mistake is that I told them they could change the wording. I should have said to only send out what I wrote,” Dawson said.

Of the added language and the photo, Dawson said it was not in her post, she did not write it and she did and does not support it being sent with her statements.

“I actually contacted the person who supposedly sent it, and told him that I did not ask for that to be written or sent and I did not appreciate it. I even told him I was sorry he was a supporter,” Dawson said, adding that the person who supposedly sent the message was not a member of her campaign committee and does not work for her campaign.

A Facebook post by Brandon Weeks on his personal page said the comment and photo were added by Bill Vines. He adds a photo of the text with Bill Vines listed as the sender and states that Vines confirmed the photos.

“I hope the voters will rise above this. That they look at my voting record and see what I have done for the community and what I stand for. This election should be based on my record,” Dawson said.

She said she would never make disparaging remarks about any minority group – whether they be in the minority because of race, sex or any other factor.

“I support the rights for every human. Every human has been afforded rights. They are the same rights for everyone, whether they are a member of any minority group or not. And every person deserves to have those rights honored and to be respected,” Dawson said.

Catsavis said she believes the message did originate from Dawson and her campaign. She said she went to Vines’ house Thursday morning and he showed her on his phone where the message had been sent to him by text from Dawson’s phone number. She took a photo of the phone showing the message.

“I’m horrified. I’m at a loss for words,” Catsavis said. “I didn’t want to believe it was her, but it’s on his phone with her phone number.”