After posting a controversial comment on Facebook the night of Aug. 9, Village Commissioner Thomas Mannix, in a Monday interview with the Forest Park Review, called his tone “slightly harsh” but said he stands by the post, which called out four residents and their families, alleging they have threatened Mannix and his family, questioned their employment, and even suggested that one might hurt his dog.
“My tone may have been slightly harsh, but I have been under relentless attack and bullying by these individuals, and I have a right to defend myself,” Mannix said. “I think there is a group of individuals who will take any opportunity they can to attack elected officials, bully them, and try and force them to do things through their words and actions.”
Mannix, who said he will not run for re-election as a village commissioner but has no plans to leave town, commented on a post on the “Build Forest Park” Facebook page, naming residents Jordan Kuehn, Geoff Binns-Calvey, Nick Ardinger and others. Mannix’s comments, posted under an opinion piece published in the Forest Park Review titled, “Vote Yes to oppose video gambling,” [Aug. 8] were later deleted. But a resident took screenshots of his screed, and later posted them to the “Forest Park Town Hall” Facebook group.
“I’m absolutely a resident first and foremost, and an elected official second,” Mannix said. “I think a public official is also a resident of a community they serve. They have a right to defend themselves.”
During his seven years in office, Mannix said residents have criticized him by yelling, posting about him on Facebook, editorializing against him, but “never have I been defamed and bullied in such a manner as I have been over the last few months.” After the Illinois Supreme Court decided not to hear the bar owners’ video gaming referendum appeal in June, Mannix’s involvement with the matter on the village’s electoral board was finished and that’s when he decided to start defending himself. He said some insults were made the night of Aug. 9 and many have also been made in the past, the comments alleging he has engaged in corruption and that his presence on the village electoral board presented a moral and legal conflict of interest.
“A lot of stuff has been deleted, unfortunately, and they’ve taken that down intentionally after I said that I’m not going to stand by and allow myself to be bullied and defamed, and allow my character to be lied about that I committed some crime,” Mannix said. “In an attempt to cover their tracks, things have been unfortunately deleted.”
Of his post, he added: “If it stops those individuals who’ve been attacking me from further attacking and defaming me, then it was effective.”
Resident Jordan Kuehn said he was at home when he saw Mannix’s “terrible” Facebook post, alleging that Kuehn was unemployed, had threatened his family and that his veterinarian wife would hurt his dog. Kuehn is president of Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a political action committee that collected signatures and successfully fought to get a binding referendum question related to video gaming on the November election ballot.
“I’m not pleased that he dragged my wife into this; she has no part of this. If he wants to engage me one-on-one, I’m more than willing to talk to him. Attacking me or whatever, it seems a little beneath an elected official to do something like that,” said Kuehn, adding that he’s never attacked Mannix’s family or even spoken to Mannix in person, but that he has emailed him several times and that Mannix has never responded.
“I have pointed out the business relationship that he has with a bar owner that would provide a conflict of interest,” Kuehn said.
Mannix operates Mite Limited Corporation with Mark Hosty, a River Forest resident and former Forest Park village commissioner who manages Healy’s Westside. Mite Limited Corporation renovates buildings for sale or rent. After the Forest Park Review revealed the business relationship between the two in January, several residents called for Mannix to recuse himself from the village’s electoral board, which at that time was deciding whether Let Forest Park Vote had enough valid signatures to get its question on the ballot.
“I have not profited one penny from video gaming. I have no ownership in any bar, in any restaurant, anything in Forest Park having to do with video gaming,” Mannix said. “My friend and business partner, Mark Hosty, manages a bar, Healy’s Westside, and him and I have a completely separate business entity that has nothing at all to do with liquor, food, anything. It is real estate.”
Come November, Mannix said he plans to vote to keep video gaming legal in the village of Forest Park but only because the revenue generated from the practice helps plug the village’s budget shortfall.
“If we weren’t in the budget situation that we’re in with the village, I would say we don’t need video gaming. But right now we have a million-dollar shortfall and that is helping close the budget hole,” Mannix said. “People want to gamble, they can gamble, I really don’t care. I don’t necessarily like it, I don’t profit from it, but our council needs the money, our village needs the money from this.”
Resident Geoff Binns-Calvey said he and his wife were driving to Cleveland when he saw Mannix’s “horrible” Facebook comment, which claimed Binns-Calvey slandered Mannix by saying he should have recused himself from the electoral board vote on video gaming. At first, Binns-Calvey said “his blood ran cold” when he saw Mannix threatening to sue him. But then he realized Mannix didn’t have a case.
“It just seemed a little unhinged and irrational to me,” said Binns-Calvey. “Sometimes we say things late at night; maybe he was a little sleepy.”
At the meeting where the electoral board was discussing whether Let Forest Park Vote’s signatures were valid, Binns-Calvey said it was obvious to him that Mannix wanted to keep video gaming in the village.
“If your business partner could make hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next few years on this thing, you want your business partner to prosper,” Binns-Calvey said. “Some people go into politics thinking, ‘What can I do for my neighbors?’ Some people go in, ‘What can I do for myself?’ and he definitely seems to be the second category.”
Binns-Calvey said he believes elected officials should always take the high road during a disagreement.
“We’re private citizens, we can say stupid [expletive]. A commissioner of our village, he can’t,” he said.
Resident Nick Ardinger said he was walking to the train after work when he saw Mannix’s comments, which alleged that Mannix had seen emails proving that Ardinger and his wife engaged in political activity related to video gaming during work hours at their publicly-funded institutions. Ardinger’s wife, who works in the elections division at the Cook County Clerk’s Office, declined to comment for this story.
“They were given to me in a paper file. … I did not ask for them, did not seek them out, did not make any effort to go find them or anything,” Mannix said of the purported emails, declining to name who showed them to him. The Cook County Clerk has not yet responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Forest Park Review about what, if any, public information requests have been made regarding Ardinger’s wife.
Ardinger said his wife had nothing to do with the effort to vote on video gaming in Forest Park. He believes Mannix targeted him because he has repeatedly, and publicly, called for the village to showcase an economic development plan that explains how video gaming benefits everyone in the village.
“He feels that by silencing the messenger, he can make the message go away,” Ardinger said in an email.
Dan Haley contributed to this report.