Political reporter to read from book in Iowa City

Mark Leibovich chronicles Cedar Rapids and gives inside look at Washington

The U.S Capitol Building is pictured at sunset in Washington, October 11, 2013.
The U.S Capitol Building is pictured at sunset in Washington, October 11, 2013.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Political reporter Mark Leibovich’s single most euphoric moment in Iowa happened at the old Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids and only tangentially involved politics.

Leibovich, formerly a reporter at the Washington Post and now chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, will read from his 2013 book, “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital,” and share his Iowa memories at 7 p.m. Friday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 South Dubuque St. Iowa City.

Most of those memories involve covering the first-in-the-nation caucus campaigns, the camaraderie of the traveling press corps and “long and endless drives in the cold that I have great nostalgia for when I’m walking through the heat and humidity in Washington,” he said recently by phone from the nation’s capital where it was 77 degrees with 70 percent humidity.

One of his favorite memories, however, is from a night in late October 2004 after covering Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry who was joined by rocker Jon Bon Jovi at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

“I’m a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan and I watched them win the World Series that night,” Leibovich said. “I was in my hotel room, on the phone with my dad as it was happening. I went down to the bar to celebrate and there was Jon Bon Jovi.

“That’s how I will always remember the moment the curse was broken,” he said.

He seems less hopeful about breaking the curse under which Washington has fallen.

“This Town” has been described by the Post as “insidery” and by the New Yorker as a “hysterically funny portrait of the capitol’s vanities and ambitions.”

The book, Leibovich said, is “essentially a profile of a city in a moment when it has been really transformed by incredible floods of wealth and new media and the whole character of the place has been changed. The ethic of public service has been in many ways transformed to self service.”

Rather than an insider’s guide, he said, “This Town” can be seen as an “insider’s indictment.”

“I hope it gives readers a fuller, cinematic portrait of what this city has become,” he said. “I wanted to go beyond the usual shorthand of how Washington is out of touch and arrogant and dysfunctional.”

He’s not a crusader, but a journalist holding a mirror to the culture that has developed in Washington.

“The first goal is getting it right and getting it done,” he said. “Then once you do that, you hope people read it ... and that it has a positive effect.

In the end, he said, “This Town” is a love-hate story.

“Look, ultimately I choose to cover politics, I choose to live here and write for a magazine and this is the world that for whatever masochistic reasons I choose to remain in,” he said.

“On many levels, I’m still fascinated by it,” Leibovich said.

Likewise, Iowa, he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there,” Leibovich said. “I’m usually restricted to presidential years or the year before presidential elections. I do love going to Iowa.”

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