My hometown of Peoria, Illinois, is in the middle of Middle America. If you've heard of it, that's probably because of the phrase, "If it plays in Peoria," where the name serves as a stand-in for the thousands of ordinary, sleepy, mostly interchangeable towns and small cities across the country. In the national imagination, it's famous for being completely average, the kind of place politicians might shout out as a bastion of bland, working-class heroism.
At least, that was the case until last year, when our mayor sent a SWAT team after my friend for making fun of him on Twitter.
For those not up to speed on Mayor Jim Ardis and the turmoil he's put Peoria through over the past 18 months, let me catch you up. Ardis was pissed last April when he discovered a Twitter account that parodied him, which happened to be run by my friend Jon Daniel. The mayor didn't have thick enough skin or the basic maturity to ignore @peoriamayor's obscenity and "filth"-laden tweets. (Ardis's word, not mine.) So he did what any psychotic despot would do: He used the police as his personal goon squad and had them toss Daniel's home in the type of jackbooted raid usually reserved for drug kingpins.
The cops scooped up Daniel and his roommates from their jobs, dragged them downtown for a few hours of interrogation, and confiscated their cell phones and other electronics before releasing them into the night under a fearful and paranoid cloud of utter disbelief.
One unlucky roommate had weed in his room, which the cops of course took and used to charge him with misdemeanor possession.
"I thought they wanted me for a triple homicide or some shit," Daniel said recently when recounting his detainment and interrogation.
At every turn of this bizarre saga—the raid itself, the emails I obtained that showed how arrogant Ardis had been in his quest for vengeance, the trip to Chicago Daniel and I took to meet with the American Civil Liberties Union, the press conference at which my friend announced his lawsuit against our shared hometown and, finally, the approval of the $125,000 settlement the city reached with Daniel and the ACLU—we thought this thing couldn't possibly go on much longer, or get any weirder.
But there just doesn't seem to be an end to what in Peoria is known as "Twittergate" and among my friends is generally called "that whole shit."
The most recent chapter came Thursday night, when The Daily Show lampooned Ardis and portrayed Daniel as a cartoonish villain bent on preying on harmless and dangerously stupid old men who don't understand the internet.
For the segment, Daniel went along with acting the part of a vicious predator. It's a hilarious bit but he spent the hours leading up to his television debut last night nervously smoking and deciding whether he would watch at all.
"It'll be a game-time decision," he told me.
Daniel is the guy who walks around with a mean mug when things are going well in his life. He always looks mad, but usually he's just nervous. This is the contradiction of his personality—he is an outrageously funny storyteller who keeps to himself, rarely goes out, and picks around on a fake Hofner bass in his down time.
That's why he was a wreck when Jessica Williams and her crew from The Daily Show came to his Peoria home a few weeks back. The pack of Marlboro menthols he burned through on the back porch that day never stood a chance.
"I'm just a little worried that I didn't do a good job," he told me Thursday, as if he were an actor being paid to perform.
Now, me and my friends believe, the world finally sees Daniel for the funny, goofy, loveable guy we all know him as—not some lowlife who took advantage of his situation to get a hefty paycheck.
With Ardis's name forever attached to this obscenely stupid scandal, it's unlikely he'll ever make it much farther than mayor of Peoria, and even that position might be in danger. (Like other city officials involved in this affair, he did not respond to a request for comment.)
You see, Daniel is now running for mayor.
He has a campaign manager (our mutual friend Dan Brown) and a Facebook page. And despite his political novice status, Daniel probably has more business holding elected office than the bloated windbag and golden retriever headwear enthusiast Donald J. Trump.
"I think Sleezy fully intends to run," Brown told me, referring to Daniel by the first part of his nickname, Sleezy D. "The election is still a year away, but he's looking into all the official requirements for candidacy. I think the attention he'll get from appearing on The Daily Show is more than most Peoria mayoral candidates achieve."
That may be the case, but Daniel will have to work his ass off to get the attention of Peorians, a generally apathetic bunch. Still, this story keeps chugging along because it involves something most of us take for granted: the right to say whatever the fuck we want about whomever we want, which many of us believe is is one of our fundamental rights as Americans. Twittergate is a classic story of the powerful abusing their power, and the public and the press afflicting the powerful right back.
The pace of Daniel's life has slowed since his lawsuit was settled. "I don't got reporters at my door no more," he told me. Maybe The Daily Show segment last night will change that. But what's more likely is that Daniel will go back to his normal life—cruising around in the blacked-out Chrysler 200 he bought with his settlement money, cooking up chicken wings at the bar where he works, drinking his after-shift drinks, watching the Cubs, Bears and Blackhawks, and hanging out at home his family.
But he will always have that smart-ass bone in his body. Recently, a Peoria government employee happened upon Daniel when he was having a drink at the end of his shift. The man chatted him up, apparently unaware of who he was.
Daniel kept his secret, but buzzed and feeling like having some fun, brought up Twittergate anyway.
"Yeah, I guess you can do whatever you want nowadays," the man lamented.
Apparently, like more than a few people in Peoria, he still thought Daniel was in the wrong when he parodied Ardis. Sleezy D played along.
"Yeah, he may have been wrong," Daniel said, referring to himself, "but that doesn't mean he should have had his house raided. I mean, people do wrong things all the time. Drinking and driving's wrong, but you're about to do that, too."
"Well, you got me there," the man replied, laughing.
He began to leave but turned around to tell Daniel one last thing.
"You're a stand-up guy," he said.
Daniel said thanks, waited, then walked inside and started laughing his ass off.
Follow Justin Glawe on Twitter.