Saturday, September 28, 2019

Still Life with Robin: It Was Good to Know You, Mark

WTOP Photo
by Peggy Robin

DC will never be the same without Mark Plotkin. Even with that flat Chicago accent, undiluted through all his years here, Mark was first and foremost a voice for DC statehood. Charmingly so, most of the time, obnoxiously so a bit of the time, indefatigably so, all of the time.

I first met him in 1978 or maybe 79….if I’m placing it correctly (well, it was a looong time ago!) Mark wasn’t a journalist then but a Democratic activist and head of the DC Democratic State Committee. Some years later (1986 – I looked it up), he ran in the Democratic primary for the Ward 3 council seat. The primary was in effect, the whole election, as the Democratic nominee never faced more than token opposition from a Republican in the general election, in our overwhelmingly Democratic ward. Here’s a classic Mark story from that race:  There was a public debate and going into the event, the three main contenders were popularly ranked and perceived as follows: The front-runner was Ruth Dixon, a moderate/centrist; positioned to the left of Ruth and in second place in the polls was Jim Nathanson, and to the left of Jim and in third place was Mark. The most contentious issue of the day was how much new development Ward 3 could accommodate. During the debate  Mark attacked Ruth aggressively, relentlessly, painting her as in the developers’ pocket, taking their money, doing their bidding. He was whipping up the crowd – he had them on his side. But on election night, when the votes were counted, Jim came out the winner. And the next morning, Mark observed, ruefully, “I hit her the knockout punch, but at the end, they raised Jim’s hand”* That was exactly how it seemed to me!

Mark left politics for journalism/local punditry not long afterward, going on to radio stardom on the DC Politics Hour and other local news and opinion shows – clearly having much more fun as the asker of questions and pursuer of slippery politicians than the other way around. I didn’t see much of him after he stopped running for things – although I would occasionally bump into him at a DC function, and even a few times in the grocery store. He had the politician’s gift of remembering everyone, even those he knew casually or from long ago, always seeming glad to see you. At least he always seemed happy to run into me. He had that light-up-the-world smile, enhanced by the deepest dimples that could possibly crease two cheeks. We will miss that....

On the day we finally get that 51st star on the US flag, it will be a great day for DC….and I know that star will be shining for Mark, too.

* Note: I’ve made this a direct quotation, but I’m quoting from memory. I did try to find it in the Washington Post archives or in some other local paper, but I don’t think Google has it. Still, I feel quite sure I’ve got the gist of it right.
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. 

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