There had been a march, as in bygone days, and now Mayor Muriel Bowser and others, including D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, were on Capitol Hill on Sept. 19 testifying why Congress should move toward making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the Union.
Prospects for such an outcome seemed, if not likely, certainly brighter in terms of public support in the city and elsewhere.
But there was something, or someone, missing from this contested but very visible hearing. It was a sharp, loud voice which had almost always been heard on not only statehood and D.C. voting rights, or Mayor Marion Barry’s latest election bid, but just about every issue D.C. folks talked about when it came to the politics of the nation and the city.
Mark Plotkin wasn’t there.
Plotkin, a passionate, perpetual supporter of D.C. statehood, a political reporter, writer and columnist for D.C.-area media outlets, known for his humor, intensity, sometimes combativeness, with a voluminous knowledge of local politics and the body politic in general, died Sunday, Sept. 22, at the age of 72.
For sure, his voice would have been heard, and not necessarily in polite terms, and might have even muffled the generally hostile outbursts by GOP committee members.
When news of Plotkin’s death came, he was being described in general terms as a political commentator and analyst, a reporter and writer, which is a little like describing a world-class chef as a cook.
Born in Iowa, Plotkin, who grew up in Chicago, where politics is like a breakfast cereal and a bloodline, was a force, a walking encyclopedia, a guy who stirred the pot. He knew most if not all the people involved in politics in the city, and the region, too, not to mention the national political-party people.
He worked on widely listened to radio stations like WAMU and WTOP, from which he exited abruptly and not a little sharply after 10 years of commentary and nose-to-nose interviews. He wrote for all manner of publications, magazines and news outlets, including the Hill. He began writing columns for The Georgetowner in 2013. His last pieces appeared in December 2017, when he was covering the first hectic year of the Trump administration.
While details about his death were sparse, there was no shortage of tributes emanating from political leaders and colleagues. “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Mark Plotkin,” Mayor Bowser said. “Mark embodied D.C. politics, cared deeply about his city… Minted in a time before social media, Mark was never one to mince words and offered fair, poignant perspectives across media outlets. In particular, Mark’s show was must-listen radio.”
“It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that longtime D.C. voting rights advocate and political analyst Mark Plotkin has passed away,” Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans posted. “Mark was one of my oldest friends and a steadfast advocate for his adopted hometown of Washington DC. He will be missed.”
WRC-TV reporter Mark Segraves, who at one time shared an office with Plotkin, said: “He taught me not only how to hold public officials accountable, but also how to listen to a person’s answers and follow up … he considered Washington his adopted hometown and loved it with all his might.”
Some of that Carl Sandburg flavor of the city of Chicago seemed to landed on Plotkin’s shoulders like attractive dust. He could be combative and challenging; even when he wore suit and tie, he looked as if his sleeves were rolled up underneath. He apparently had a temper, although I can’t say I ever really saw it in action. He was insistent in his questioning, for sure, and persistent as well.
“Fierce or friendly,” Tom Sherwood, another WRC veteran, with a similar sense of humor, said of Plotkin. “Mark had a word or two for the D.C. he loved.”
And he did love the city, that was self-evident. No matter what happened, he loved it not with blinders on, but in a clear-eyed way that blasted its faults and often faulty leadership, but embraced it with the passion of a swain. He was of liberal spirit and ideology, and a democrat as well as a Democrat.
Plotkin went to George Washington University and, in typical advocate fashion, suggested that the school change its nickname of “Colonials.” He was a sports fan and player; he followed GW basketball like a groupie and played tennis often (and pretty well if his matches during the Volta Park festivals in Georgetown were any indication).
He pursued D.C. voting rights relentlessly, got the Wilson Building returned to the District government and let you know he was in the room. I could say, also, that I learned a lot from him and enjoyed being around him even if, God forbid, I disagreed with him about something or other.
Plotkin also waded into the waters of elective office, running for a Council seat in a decisively unsuccessful result. Announcing the outcome, he said to the press: “The people have spoken … the bastards!”
At The Georgetowner, Plotkin, in astute, incisive style, wrote a regular political column which covered doings in D.C., including electoral battles, as well as in Maryland and Virginia. He also wrote about the 2016 presidential campaign and election.
In 2018, he donated his papers, including articles from newspapers, personal documents, handwritten and typed commentaries and photographs, to George Washington University.
For this writer, Plotkin was a colleague, and I hope a friend. He was a man you engaged in conversation, or you could experience as a force of nature and a fountain of information. Either way, when Plotkin spoke, you listened.