OPINION COLUMN ... Mark Caserta: Stewart’s Wars: Should Marshall University President Gilbert resign?

Updated 8 weeks ago by Mark Caserta

(Editor's Note: Views expressed are those of the columnist, not HNN.  HNN's position is only displayed with EDITORIAL proceeding the article. We are open to columns or letters from diverse perspectives.) 

Just when you may think conditions couldn’t become worse in the city of Huntington, WV, it appears they may already be worse than any of us could have imagined.

Most people in our area are aware of the campaign to reinstate the 32-year contract between Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs and Marshall University to be able to sell their product during Thundering Herd sporting events. The contract was negated in August. Stewart’s, of course, is owned by Delegate John Mandt. Jr., of the 16th District. (R-WV)

Upon learning of the cessation of the contract, Steven J. Davis, founder of Concerned Citizens of Huntington, WV. and I began an offensive to return Stewart’s to Marshall’s sporting events. After all, Stewart’s and the Mandt family have been an integral part of the Marshall University family and its events for 32 years!

And frankly, Stewart’s is one of the few remaining long-term businesses still in our town, having proudly served our communities for over eight decades!

Our campaign has included several appearances on and with the support of the popular “Tom Roten Morning Show” on News Radio 800 WVHU. The Stewart’s cause has been featured on all of the local television affiliates, as well as in print. The heartfelt support throughout the region has been humbling and appreciated.

But what could possibly have caused the termination of such a viable, beneficial relationship between Marshall and John Mandt Jr.? Surely, it must have been something of critical consequence to institute the removal of the tradition of “slammin’ down” a Stewart’s Hot Dog as part of the game experience for Herd fans around the country.

The catalyst of this contractual “abortion” initially appeared to be a petition circulated by a liberal politician, Dakota Nelson, who shamelessly took credit for the cessation of the pact after receiving a “whopping” 750 signatures from unknown individuals, claiming dismay over comments made by Delegate Mandt, considered by progressives to be “Islamophobic” in nature.

On his Facebook page, Nelson calls himself a “community organizer”. Yep, that’s just what we need – another liberal community organizer representing us. That sure worked out well at the executive level!

The entire process was vague and opaque. It was, undoubtedly, retaliation birthed by his loss to John Mandt Jr. in the 2018 general election to House of Representatives.

Make no mistake, Nelson’s quest for squelching Rep. Mandt’s success had the support of several “deep state” players in our city.

Teresa Ball, Labor-Management Liason/LGBTQ and Diversity Liason to the Mayor, posted her “euphoric” support of Mandt’s demise on her social media page following the cancellation.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE GOT HIM!,” her post stated. “What a wonderful victory! Thanks to all who led this fight and thanks to Marshall Univeristy which is truly OPEN TO ALL!!. (BTW, I didn’t misspell University, Ball did)

We’re still waiting on our city’s mayor to distance himself from these comments by a member of his staff.

Isn’t it interesting how liberals apply the term, “inclusive” or “open to all” only to those who fall within their “club of progressive reform?”

Steven J. Davis ultimately decided to circulate a more transparent, legitimate petition on Change.org calling for the continuance of the 32-year contract. He received nearly 5000 signatures in just over 7 days! Last Tuesday, Steve and I proceeded to present the petition to the office of Marshall President Jerome Gilbert with a film crew on our heels.

In the “theater of irony” nothing is surprising. Following our interviews with two local news crews, we headed across campus, up the stairs of Old Main and down the “Kelly Green” carpeted hall to the office of the president at 10:30 am, September 17th.

But as we peered into the office window, no one was there and the door was locked!  So much for “Open to all” decals all over campus, supporting the mayor’s signature progressive policy of inclusion.

Thankfully, we were able to present the petition to an administrative assistant and received an email confirmation of receipt.

So, after weeks of peeling back the layers of this rancid onion, new information obtained via a FOIA request proves this wasn’t about a “hot dog” at all. It was about politics. One thing I’ve learned about liberals is there is absolutely nothing they aren’t willing to compromise to perpetuate their progressive agenda.

Even if it’s the heart of a city.

On February 20th, 2019, President Jerome Gilbert forwarded an email to Rep. John Mandt Jr. from a “concerned citizen” questioning his voting record regarding issues such as campus carry and his position on LGBTQ issues, requesting Stewart’s “lucrative” contract be discontinued at Marshall events.

One has to wonder if this individual even understands business, calling the contract lucrative.

As you carefully read the email, you decide whether Gilbert was threatening in his remarks to Delegate Mandt.

Frankly, it would be difficult to interpret otherwise.

Rep. Mandt had previously refused to support the mayor’s “open to all” campaign by not placing the decals promoting the policy on his place of business. His position was that Stewart’s and the Mandt family have “always” been open to all and a decal isn’t needed to prove his heart for the community.

Additionally, Mandt’s conservative voting record often represented the antithesis of our current administration’s liberal agenda.

The narrative that in prior years Huntington has been anything less than inclusive is insulting and inaccurate. We just don’t believe special recognition is needed, nor are we willing to condone behaviors contrary to our religious beliefs.

In my view, this was nothing short of bureaucratic innuendo commissioned by Marshall University’s most powerful state employee, suggesting political blackmail and a “quid pro quo” leveraging Rep. John Mandt. Jr’s votes in Charleston as “ransom.”

Losing Stewart’s contract with Marshall University’s primary vendor, Sodexo, represented the dark consequence if the Congressman refused to comply by voting in accordance with President Gilbert’s support of Mayor Williams’ “open to all” policy. I submit this had the full, unadulterated support of key members of our city’s administration and supportive liberal minions.

Simply put, “We are Marshall” but “We are Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs” only if Delegate John Mandt Jr.’s votes for our agenda in Charleston.

Currently, Steve Davis is awaiting a response from Marshall and Sodexo. While Sodexo admittedly subcontracted Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs to athletic events, the primary contractual agreement is between Marshall and Sodexo. That’s how business works. Why else would Sodexo have originally subcontracted even a portion of their business to a competitor??

Marshall can fix this. The people have spoken. We demand Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs return to Marshall sporting events – now.

But it’s much larger than that. Do we want a system of politics that’s not driven by the desires of the people? Do we want our policies and city controlled by a few far-left liberals willing to blackmail, using contracts as a ransom? Do we want the “quid pro quo” of Washington, DC. right here in Huntington, WV.?

If you’re a conservative, like most in our area, you don’t want our city heading down the road we’re on. Huntington is dying a slow death. What will it take for us to take our last breath? We must seize opportunities like this to return our city to greatness.

Given the facts, should Marshall President Jerome Gilbert submit his resignation? How can his decision-making process ever be trusted again? Has he compromised his ability to lead a university? This wasn’t a simple matter of “lobbying” a politician. This could very easily be equated with political blackmail.

One thing’s for sure. This matter isn’t going away. Exposing the progressive movement in our city is becoming a full-time job.

And we’ve only just begun.

Read the memo forwarded to Delegate John Mandt Jr. from M.U. President Jerome Gilbert:


OPINION COLUMN ...  Mark Caserta: Stewart’s Wars: Should Marshall University President Gilbert resign?
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