In Memoriam: Mark Plotkin

The GW alumnus was a political commentator and staunch advocate for D.C. statehood.

Mark Plotkin
GW alumnus Mark Plotkin was an award-winning journalist and political commentator. (Photo: Abby Greenawalt))
September 25, 2019

Mark Plotkin, a journalist, political commentator and a past recipient of a George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, died Sunday. He was 72.

Mr. Plotkin, B.A. ’69, a native of Chicago, was best known for his political commentary and his relentless advocacy for full voting rights for D.C. residents and D.C. statehood. His commentaries were broadcast on radio stations WAMU-FM and WTOP-FM and published in The Washington Post, Legal Times and other newspapers.

Last year, Mr. Plotkin donated his collection of papers to GW. They included handwritten and typed commentaries, newspaper articles, personal documents and photographs from his career, which includes an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.

His voice was such a fixture and of such import in D.C. that at the GW reception in March 2018  where the donation of his collection was formally announced, in attendance were the current D.C. mayor, three previous D.C. mayors, three sitting members of the D.C. Council, a former congressional representative from Northern Virginia and several journalists.

"Mark was a D.C. institution,” said GW President Thomas LeBlanc. “His love of and support for his alma mater was palpable to all who encountered him. We will miss his enthusiastic encouragement of our GW athletic teams, his passion for GW and his wit and wisdom about all things D.C." 

An avid basketball fan, Mr. Plotkin was a season ticket holder for GW men’s basketball, and he often aimed his ire in commentaries at other D.C. area universities, particularly Georgetown, for failing to schedule games regularly against GW and other local mid-major basketball programs. He never hesitated to tell elected officials and journalists alike when he believed they taken a wrong position or broadcast or published erroneous information.

His collection of papers 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 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.”

Geneva Henry, GW dean of libraries and academic innovation, said Mr. Plotkin’s death was a “major loss to the D.C. community.”

“Mark entrusted his personal papers to our Special Collections, and we will continue to build collections that examine political and cultural developments in Washington, D.C. since Home Rule was expanded in 1973,” Ms. Henry said. “We are grateful to Mark for his support of this work, as well as his broader philanthropic support of the university and will keep his memory alive as a dedicated Washingtonian.” 

Elected officials and journalists filled social media with memories of Mr. Plotkin, times he held them accountable or taught them lessons about reporting and questioning authority.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) noted in a statement that Mr. Plotkin “cared deeply about this city and was an unrelenting advocate for securing voting rights for our residents and for D.C. statehood.”

“Mark was never one to mince words and offered fair, poignant perspectives across media outlets,” Ms. Bowser said. “Tuning into Mark’s show was must-listen radio.”

D.C. Council Member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), B.S. ’64, remembered that he first met Mr. Plotkin while they were both students at GW. He recalled that Mr. Plotkin was politically active on campus then and also was “a pretty good basketball player.”

“Mark had strong civic commitment,” Mr. Gray said. “He was a native of Chicago, but he loved D.C. just as if he were a son of the city. He would engage people in conversation, and no matter how it started, he would always end up talking about D.C. statehood.”

In an interview prior to the reception to announce his collections donation, Mr. Plotkin said he hoped “students, scholars and anyone interested in D.C. will make use of them.”

When the interview ended, Mr. Plotkin said: “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.”


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