"Will it play in Peoria?" emerged as a catchphrase almost 100 years ago on the vaudeville scene because a hit with the Peoria crowd was likely to go over well anywhere in America.
But Twitter doesn't play in Peoria, Illinois, apparently. At least not with the mayor.
Mayor Jim Ardis, angered by @peoriamayor, a satirical Twitter account depicting him as a cursing, pot-smoking pol prone to consort with strippers and ladies of the night, sicced his cops on the anonymous Tweet-slinger.
Two judges signed warrants allowing police to get information from Twitter and Comcast, reports the Peoria Journal-Star. After a few weeks of digging, a third judge approved a warrant for a raid.
On April 16, police burst through the front door of a home shared by 28-year-old Jon Daniel and 36-year-old Jacob Elliott, seizing xBox game consoles, several iPhones, computers, their mail, some digital memory cards — and a small amount of marijuana. Elliot appeared in court Thursday on a marijuana possession charge, but no mention was made of the fake Twitter account.
[ COMMENTARY: By Dennis Robaugh ]
And Daniel, a line cook in Peoria and the jokester behind the fake mayoral Twitter account, has yet to be charged. The account, which started in late February and described itself as a parody as of early March, was shut down by Twitter a few weeks ago.
Ardis said the Tweets that mocked him were "disgusting" and "filth." In a city of 115,000 residents, the account acquired only about four dozen followers. Nevertheless, Ardis told the Peoria news media he was moved to act because people were sharing the Tweets with his mom, wife and kids.
"I have a pretty good sense of humor. ... You can take as many shots as possible. I have a pretty thick skin," Mayor Ardis explained, apparently without irony.
A few years ago, about 170 miles north of Peoria, another mayor found himself the subject of a satirical Twitter parody. Launched in 2010 as Rahm Emanuel was vying to be mayor of Chicago, @mayoremanuel proved to be an irreverent, unbridled delight, acquiring more than 40,000 followers through the February 2011 election.
Upon Emanuel's victory, the faker tweeted: "Axelrod and I are double-fisting beers right now, smashing the empties on our foreheads. IT FEELS (effing) GREAT TO BE ALIVE."
Out of 1,900-some tweets, almost all featured a variant of the F-word.
After the election, the account fell silent.
The real Rahm, legitimately a fan of his Twitter doppelganger, offered $5,000 to the faker's favorite charity if he only would reveal himself. The Atlantic magazine analyzed the tweets, seeking to uncover the mysterious social media bard's true identity, which prompted Chicago journalism professor and comic book aficionado Dan Sinker to finally go public and lay claim to his genius.
Jon Daniel's @peoriamayor lacked the wit and verve of Sinker's satire, not to mention the reach. If not for Mayor Ardis unleashing the hounds on Daniel, it's doubtful many outside the young man's social circle would've encountered his jabs.
Certainly, a gift to his favorite charity and accolades aren't in Daniel's future. A fine and jail time? Maybe. Peoria's police chief told reporters that "false impersonation of a public official," the crime Daniel is being investigated for, could result in a fine of $2,500 and a year in jail.
Funny or not, irritating or innocuous, whether by the hand of a big-city journalism prof or a smart-alecky Peoria fry cook, free speech is free speech.But it would seem that doesn't play in Peoria.
Twitter: @DennisRobaugh | Facebook: Crime-N-Shame
posted on the Patch Midwest network