Eddie Mannis thought about running for mayor in 2010, but bowed out after having a long talk with Madeline Rogero, whom he ended up supporting and working for after she was elected.
“I was the first-ever chief operating officer for the city and deputy to the mayor. I served for 18 months,” he said, dismissing rumors that he was unhappy working for Rogero because he got frustrated with government red tape.
“When somebody comes from the private sector, it’s easy to say they get frustrated with bureaucracy,” he said. “I am passionate and I am driven to get things done, but I understand in government there is a public process and a legislative process.
“Even when I was working for the city, I knew that how long that process takes wasn’t up to me, but once a decision goes through the public process and the legislative process and gets to the sixth floor, we owe it to the taxpayers to implement it on schedule. There should be a start date and an estimated completion date. I really don’t think that’s too much to expect and I’ll never back up from that.”
He left his city job in 2012 because his business – Prestige Cleaners – had made a major acquisition that needed his attention.
“We acquired the tuxedo company. I had made a significant investment in that company, and it was struggling. I came back to save that company, and it took me three or four years to turn it around.”
Mannis is a Central High School graduate (Class of ’77) who grew up poor in the Inskip neighborhood of Frog Level. For those who inject partisan politics into non-partisan city elections, Mannis says he has voted in the last 13 Republican primaries, but has supported plenty of Democrats (Rogero, for one) and will continue to do so.
“I consider myself a commonsense kind of guy.”
Mannis was a 24-year-old Maryville College student working 50 hours a week at Sanitary Laundry when he saw an ad for used dry cleaning equipment and decided to check it out. He called the listed number and talked to the seller – a guy who wanted to move back to New York and was willing to do owner financing.
Mannis jumped on the deal and opened Prestige Cleaners in March 1985. He had three employees, including his mother, Betty Mannis Smart, and one 1,200 square feet Bearden location.
And why did he decide to hang such a fancy name on such a modest little business?
“I was brainstorming with my family one evening. One of the first names under consideration was ‘Eddie’s, but that just didn’t sound right. Prestige had a ring to it. It was something to aspire to.”
Meanwhile, working with his strong-willed mother turned out not to be easy. Despite the fact that they were very close, they butted heads from the get-go.
“She quit about five times,” he said. “She would get so mad at me when we disagreed that she’d walk out and drive around awhile, then she’d come back. The last time she quit, probably in 1989, I said, ‘Mother, we can’t keep doing this. I would rather be your son and you be my mother. So here’s what I’m going to do: you stay home and I will pay you just as if you were working.’
“So my mother got paid until the day she died. One of the hardest things I had to do after she passed away was terminate her from my payroll.”
His father, Cecil Mannis, (known as the “social director” because of his outgoing personality) worked there too, and so did his sister Jan, who stayed until she retired four months ago. His sister Leanne teaches second grade at West Hills Elementary School. His brother, Robbie, is a successful professional photographer in New York City.
Today, Prestige Cleaners has 165 employees and10 locations in Knox County, plus one in Oak Ridge and one in Blount County. Prestige Tuxedo has four Knox County stores and a retail location in Jackson, Tenn.
Mannis said his management team has increasingly taken over running the business in recent years, and he will trust them to run the company while he tends to city business, should he be elected.
“I think Knoxville is so well positioned to move forward and compete – and we do have to compete with other cities for business, for conventions and for tourism. One of my major focuses will be economic development. I know first-hand what it’s like to be in business, and I think we need to concentrate on recruiting new businesses into Knoxville. But we also need to focus on encouraging new and existing small business owners – we need to be sitting down with them and asking, ‘How can we serve you better?’
“We have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit here and I want to put a special emphasis on minority entrepreneurship.”
It’s not as if Mannis has spent the last six and a half years solely focused on his business. He has involved himself in too much charity and public service work to list, including marshaling a massive Sevier County relief effort after the wildfires. He is a longtime supporter of Positively Living, which provides housing for people with AIDS. He chairs the board of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority and is a past chair of the board of Zoo Knoxville.
But closest to his heart is working as CEO of Honor Air Knoxville, which he founded 10-plus years ago, and which has taken more than 3,300 World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam veterans on 26 flights to Washington, D.C., to see the national memorials to their service.
So, after spending eight years in the “three to get ready” zone, Mannis has envisioned the future he wants to see for his hometown, assembled a campaign team and even commissioned the design of a logo that he calls a “wheel of progress.” The wheel’s spokes are six stylized figures, representing the city’s six city council districts. Its colors were inspired by the first flag of Knoxville.
“It was important to me that it have a meaning,” he said.
And now he says he’s fired up and ready to go.
“I thought this would be a good eight years to continue thinking about whether this is really something that I want to do, and to see if I still had the passion when the time came. At the end of eight years, the passion is greater than it ever was before.”
Eddie Mannis is running for Knoxville mayor.