The collection from the award-winning journalist and advocate for D.C. voting rights and statehood will be housed at the Gelman Library’s Special Collections Research Center.
By Keith Harriston
Mark Plotkin, a journalist, political commentator and a past recipient of a George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, has donated his collection of papers to the university.
The collection includes handwritten and typed commentaries, articles from newspapers including The Washington Post and Legal Times, personal documents and photographs from Mr. Plotkin’s career, which includes an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.
Geneva Henry, dean of GW Libraries and Academic Innovation, accepted the gift Thursday evening at a reception in Gelman Library that drew journalists, GW alumni and several politicians including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, three former D.C. mayors, three sitting members of the D.C. Council and a former congressional representative from Northern Virginia.
“If you talk to Mark, you’ll learn a lot about Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Henry said. “His papers are fascinating, and I can't imagine Mark will slow down any time soon, so we expect there to be even more in the future.”
Mr. Plotkin, B.A. ’69, is known best as one of the staunchest advocates for voting rights for D.C. residents and D.C. statehood. His doggedness on those issues was a consistent theme among the several speakers who shared stories about him—and from Mr. Plotkin, himself.
“I am very happy and extremely grateful to GW for accepting my commentaries and including them in their Special Collections Research Center,” Mr. Plotkin said before Thursday’s event. “It is my hope that students, scholars and anyone interested in D.C. will make wide use of them.
“And, I would also like to add that D.C. should be the 51st state. Then and only then will it truly become part of America.”
Ms. Bowser (D) presented Mr. Plotkin with a resolution declaring March 29, 2018, as “Mark Plotkin Day” in D.C. and said that his collection would help “to educate many people” on issues important to Washington, D.C. She thanked him for gifting his papers to GW and for “curating them and putting them together in a way that will be helpful to so many others.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gave Mr. Plotkin a copy of a resolution making March 29 "Mark Plotkin Day" in D.C.
Former D.C. Mayors Sharon Pratt, Anthony Williams and Vincent Gray, B.S. ’64, all spoke about their relationships with Mr. Plotkin.
“Mark is not shrinking at all,” said Mr. Gray, who now represents Ward 7 on the D.C. Council. “I don’t know how many times he’s been expelled from the White House.”
The collection of materials dates from 1983 through 2017. It will enable future generations of journalists, politicos and others to research original historical documents about the life, culture and local politics of the District of Columbia. The gift includes weekly commentaries complete with handwritten and typed notes from Mr. Plotkin’s time as a political analyst at WAMU-FM radio, an NPR affiliate, and WTOP-FM, the city’s all-news radio station. The collection also includes published articles from Mr. Plotkin’s “The Local Angle” column for Legal Times from 1991-1999, and opinion articles from The Washington Post, among other items.
A few items from the collection were on display for the Thursday event. They included a 1991 column from Legal Times in which Mr. Plotkin labeled U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) as “obstructionists” to D.C. statehood. In another handwritten item, this one a 2011 WTOP commentary, he scolded leadership of the Georgetown University men’s basketball program for failing to regularly schedule games against other D.C. area teams. In an op-ed in The Post from 2010, Mr. Plotkin took President Barack Obama to task for once labeling D.C. rights as a “partisan and controversial issue.”
Attendees at the Gelman announcement included D.C. Council Members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the Elyce Zenoff Research Professor of Law at GW, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Ms. Pratt, who served as D.C. mayor from 1990-1994, said that Mr. Plotkin is “one of the few things that all of us [former D.C.] mayors agree on.”
“Mark has been relentless in promoting voting rights for D.C. residents,” she said. “When it happens, when statehood happens for D.C., writ large will be the name of Mark Plotkin.”
Mr. Plotkin also has made a bequest to GW Libraries and Academic Innovation to create a Focus on Washington Fund, which will support processing and access for the libraries’ post-1974 Washingtoniana collections. This reflects his deep interest in DC statehood.