Contributor Evan Mays sat with mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis on Friday, Sept. 6. Results of the primary, campaign challenges and goals were shared in this exclusive interview.
It was a sweltering, hot day in the heart of Knoxville when Eddie Mannis and I sat down to discuss his campaign to become the Scruffy City’s next mayor.
Symbolic of the recent intersection of his business career and his blossoming political career, Mannis’ campaign office sits in the back of one of his successful business ventures, a tuxedo rental store.
Underneath the harsh glow of fluorescent lights, as my cameraman Ben Pham set up his equipment, a process far beyond my comprehension, I sat down across from the man who had just won the Knoxville mayoral primary election.
Back in late August, Mannis came in first place in the mayoral primary. However, because he did not receive over half the votes cast in the election, he and the second place finisher, Indya Kincannon, will be moving on to the general election in November.
Shortly after the primary, Mannis displayed an interest in sitting down with the Beacon, which led to me sitting in the back of his tuxedo shop, directly across from him.
Who is Eddie Mannis?
“I’m a native Knoxvillian, I’ve lived in Knoxville all my life,” Mannis told me.
Mannis began his career while in school in 1985. He saw an ad in the newspaper selling dry-cleaning equipment. One thing led to another, and Mannis ended up starting his own dry-cleaning business.
He started his small business with three employees that year. Today, Mannis operates the same company and now employs 168 people at twelve different locations. Additionally, he has begun a tuxedo rental division and an insurance disaster restoration division.
“We are one of the largest independently owned cleaners in the country today,” Mannis proudly said.
Mannis told me he initially thought about running for mayor in 2010, but decided against it.
“In 2010 … I sat down with Madeline Rogero. She called me and asked me to sit down with her because she was actively running as well,” Mannis said. “She asked me if I would consider waiting and after giving it some thought I decided I would wait, you know, to see if the passion was still in me eight years later.”
Madeline Rogero went on to win the Knoxville mayoral election in 2010, serving as the city’s first female mayor. Mannis went to work with Rogero in city hall, becoming her Chief Operating Officer, the city’s first.
“So, that brings us to … 2018 when I announced and the passion is just as great now, if not more so,” Mannis told me.
An unconventional candidate
If elected, Mannis would become Knoxville’s first openly gay mayor. But, he has stated before that he thinks being a Republican means more to Knoxville’s voters than his sexual orientation does.
When asked to elaborate, Mannis had a lot to say.
“From a business perspective … I am fiscally conservative,” Mannis said. “But I am socially responsive. It means that I am more of a common sense voter … that’s the way I cast my vote.”
But, Mannis was quick to add that he had voted for Democrats many times, and he had worked hard to elect the first female Democratic mayoral candidate in Knoxville.
As far as being openly gay, Mannis claimed that the topic had not factored into the race much.
“The openly gay challenge has not been a challenge,” Mannis told me.
He then described his outlook on the situation, stating that it did not bother him if people disagreed with him, that he could still be civil with people and work well with anyone despite their thoughts on his sexual orientation.
Where he stands on issues
One of Mannis’ top priorities is economic development and job growth.
“I don’t think we’ve done a really good job at actively recruiting companies into Knoxville,” Mannis said.
He said he believes Knoxville’s mayor should be working with other government officials to bring more companies to the city and keep them here.
Mannis also told me that he wants to make Knoxville a place where UT graduates want to stay. He wants the job market in the city to be expansive enough to keep graduates here.
Homelessness and affordable housing are two other issues Mannis prioritizes.
“Economic development and job growth will help with affordable housing, so those all kind of flow together,” Mannis said.
Among other issues, Mannis listed crime, safe neighborhoods and putting children first as other topics that will be prioritized if he is elected.
What Eddie Mannis wants Knoxville voters to know
As the interview was dwindling down to its final moments and Mannis’s assistant Erin informed me we only had a few minutes left, I asked Mannis what he wants voters -- specifically student voters -- to know about him. He first echoed his previous statement that while he may be fiscally conservative, he is socially responsive.
He also touched on the experience he brings to the table.
“I have the experience, both from the private sector and the public sector. I know how to build teams, I know how to manage budgets … I have put budgets together and had to make them work. The city of Knoxville is a 350 million dollar enterprise with almost 2,000 employees. I truly believe that the office of mayor needs to have experience going in,” Mannis said.
He then smiled as he said, “I always kind of look at myself and say it’s important for the mayor of any city to have the mind of a CEO and the heart of a social worker.”
Eddie Mannis may be going into the general election as the frontrunner but that does not mean this race is over by any means.
There are still almost two months before the general election takes place, and Mannis made it clear that he and his team are ready.
“All I know is we’re just going to work hard,” Mannis told me.
As I left his campaign office, I was content in knowing that whether he wins or loses, Eddie Mannis has a plan for Knoxville.