The sleaziest, most detestable thing a public official can do, in my opinion, is to deliberately try to silence and intimidate private citizens who simply want to speak their minds. Such behavior mocks the democratic process and tears apart the fabric of a community. Such tactics as threatening strategic lawsuits, doxing, abusing FOIA requests to try to dig up dirt on private citizens, and vicious personal attacks ought not to be part of political life in our small town.
Yet these pernicious tactics have been a regular feature of our political culture in Forest Park for nearly a decade and a half. Commissioner — and practitioner of the political “dark arts” — Tom Mannix has played a central role.
For those of you who are, to your credit, not regular lurkers on the Facebook page Build Forest Park, and may have missed the account in the Review, here is a brief summary of exactly what Mannix did and said recently, and why it still concerns me:
Months before, former commissioner and pro-gambling bar manager Mark Hosty, a partner with Mannix in a real estate business, made an FOIA request to view the personal work emails of the wife of a pro-vote activist, looking to find evidence that she engaged in political activities on the job. All he found was an invitation from the wife (who works in a County department) to her husband to attend the Pride parade, at the behest of her department. Tom Mannix was in some fashion forwarded these emails, and willfully misrepresented them as evidence of wrongdoing. Please note that the woman has never interacted with Tom Mannix, was never involved in the pro-vote movement, and is primarily involved in the Community Garden.
Mannix also expressed the belief that the wife of the chairman of Let Forest Park Vote, a woman who is a well-respected, universally liked and apolitical veterinarian, would harm his dog, and he believed that the River Forest animal clinic where she worked would aid and abet this activity. Again, this woman never once met Tom Mannix. And the animal clinic doesn’t care about the issue of video gambling here.
Astonishingly, Mannix saw no contradiction between making malicious, unhinged accusations against the wives of pro-vote activists and simultaneously threatening a libel lawsuit against anyone criticizing his actions as a public official on the Electoral Board. (If he was so eager to genuinely clarify that his business relationship with bar manager Mark Hosty did not bias his judgment, he might have been wise to not use FOIA requests, garnered by Hosty, to try to intimidate the pro-vote petitioners he claims to have treated fairly.) Threatening citizens with specious “strategic” lawsuits is a time-honored intimidation technique, and a particularly loathsome one.
At the village council meeting where five citizens spoke against this behavior, the Mayor (playing good cop to Mannix’s bad one) conceded that while he “wasn’t thrilled” with Mannix’s comments, both sides just needed to be quiet. It “takes two to tango” he said unctuously, an attempt to silence with condescension people his uncontrollable partner could not silence with threats. He ignored the difference between heated remarks and cold-blooded acts of intimidation by a public official. And anyway, he noted, there’s nothing the council can do. Pulling out an old campaign flyer from the last mayoral campaign that accused him of corruption, a flyer he oddly claimed to carry with him at all times, he portrayed himself as a victim and dwelled on his own still-hurt feelings. (No mention of how his supporters in that election posted un-redacted, illicitly obtained police records on Facebook that included his mayoral opponent’s Social Security number.)
It is time to reject, once and for all, the political culture of bullying and intimidation. It is time for the rest of the commissioners, who I know to be good neighbors and honorable citizens, to pass a motion expressing formal condemnation of Mr. Mannix’s actions. It is time, once and for all, to assert that this is a New Forest Park and we as citizens will not be patronized and will not be bullied into silence.
Brian Kuhr is a Forest Park resident.