Over coffee Monday morning, the Review asked Forest Park Commissioner Tom Mannix if he had any regrets about bringing the wives of two video gaming opponents into last weekend’s multiple-day social media harangue.
In one case he suggested he feared the veterinarian wife of one gaming foe might actively hurt his dog if left in her care. In the other he questioned the ethics of an employee of the Cook County Clerk, and wife of another gaming opponent, suggesting without evidence she might have improperly inserted herself into the review of signatures on anti-gaming petitions.
Mannix thought about our question long and hard — 15 seconds, 30 seconds — before slowly replying, “My tone might have been slightly harsh.”
Mannix, of whom we have been critical in the past, gave himself credit in our interview for having publicly contained his upset over the many months that the video gaming rulings of the local electoral board, of which he is one of three members, wound their way through the courts. When the state supreme court recently chose not to hear the case, thereby letting stand a lower court ruling allowing a binding referendum this November on the controversial issue, Mannix said he felt enabled to finally respond to what he feels have been unfair attacks on him. Specifically he said that anti-gaming critics on social media have charged him with corruption and conflict of interest on this issue. Those, he said, are actual crimes and that he would “no longer allow myself to be bullied or defamed.”
He said the critics have “made it personal about my wife. It has impacted my family.” Asked for occasions when gaming opponents have directly named his wife on social media, Mannix did not have an immediate response.
We see more downsides than ups when it comes to small-town controversies being debated on social media — or small-town newspaper websites for that matter. The endless fight over video gaming and democratic norms in Forest Park is a most extreme example of how social media raises the heat and lowers the civility of our community.
Mannix said he is a resident first and a public official after that. We disagree. Elected officials have chosen a public role. They will be criticized, fairly and sometimes unfairly. And while they can defend themselves, it needs to be in a way that is respectful of their office and of their constituents.
Forest Park is in a bad place. We’ve burned through the lubrication that allows debate but avoids the hate. The tactics of what passes for leadership among bar owners in defense of video gaming profits has caused long-term division and deep suspicion. We have 80 days until the referendum on the subject. We have seven months until a municipal election that needs to turn on which mayoral and commissioner candidates have a plan to mend this community.
Tom Mannix is actively adding to the friction and he needs to stop it.