Two Rahms make it right

By Amanda Murphy

Standing in WLS-AM’s radio studio, cramped with photographers and videographers, Dan Sinker, the Columbia journalism professor behind the Twitter sensation @MayorEmanuel, and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel were finally able to meet.

The men were on the Roe Conn and Richard Roeper show at 5 p.m. on March 2. On Feb. 15, Emanuel announced on the show he would donate $2,500–$5,000 to the charity of his impersonator’s choice if they came out of hiding.

When Sinker was revealed as the brains behind the Twitter account in a Feb. 28 article in The Atlantic, he said he wasn’t sure if the offer was still on the table.

On the show, Sinker announced he would give Emanuel’s $5,000 donation to the Young Chicago Authors program, which nourishes the writing and performance of children in the Chicago Public Schools system. will match the $5,000 and $1,000 each will be donated from Roeper and Conn. Sinker said, as far as he knew, the donation was a surprise to the program.

“This is for what you do [for] our kids and our schools,” Emanuel said as he handed the check to Sinker. “I want this to be an example for others.”

Sinker started the Twitter account in October 2010 with no idea what he was doing, he said.

It began with him replying with insults to other posts to entertain himself and some close friends. When he grew bored with that, he slowly turned it into creative writing by introducing story arcs and characters.

His success with the Twitter account ended in more than 40,000 followers, media attention and a spot on The Colbert Report on March 8.

“I don’t even really know why I started it,” Sinker said. “It was just something funny to make people laugh and show something of the absurdity of running for political office.”

When it came time to end the account, Sinker said he had doubts about coming out. It wasn’t until Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, contacted @MayorEmanuel that he considered revealing his identity. Beginning on March 1, the two constantly e-mailed back and forth with Madrigal wooing him. Sinker compared it to a courtship.

“The Atlantic seemed like an interesting choice to come out to,” Sinker said. “It is a news magazine, but it tends to think a little bit more about the news.”

It wasn’t until Feb. 28 that Sinker decided he was ready to come out of hiding. Sinker said when he gave Madrigal his real name the journalist immediately started researching him. It wasn’t long before Madrigal discovered Sinker was the founder of Punk Planet, a magazine he was a fan of in the 1990s.

“In some ways it was really perfect,” Sinker said.

He said he was very nervous about returning to the college for his classes because Columbia has social media guidelines faculty and staff have to follow.

It states “employees are responsible for their interactions on social media sites.” When he came in to teach on March 2, he was relieved to find the college was supportive of his work.

Nancy Day, chair of the Journalism Department, compared Sinker’s use of made up and real characters, scenes and plots to Hunter S. Thompson’s pieces on Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

“The most important element of the @MayorEmanuel phenomenon is the way Dan took this relatively new medium and created a serial narrative in short bursts people couldn’t wait to read,” Day said.

When Sinker decided to come out, he did not expect the media attention he received. He said it wasn’t until news reporters showed up on his front lawn on Feb. 28 that it hit him to how big of a deal this was.

“It was purely ‘this might be funny,’ and then suddenly it turns into something gigantic,” Sinker said.

When asked about his plans to do more fake tweeting his response was emphatically, “God, no.”

“I’ve never really done a lot of repeating myself in my career,” Sinker said. “I tend to do things, and then when they’re done I do something else because that’s what is interesting.”

Sinker cannot fathom how something that began as entertainment on his long train rides from Evanston to Columbia resulted in him meeting Emanuel.

“I think it was entertaining, and I enjoyed it like everybody else,” Emanuel said.