Charles A. Docter, a bankruptcy lawyer for a half century who simultaneously pursued a second career as a 12-year member of the Maryland House of Delegates and then a third career as a promoter of downtown Washington revitalization, died July 27 at a medical-care center in Washington. He was 86.
The cause was complications after a fall, said a grandson, Benjamin Docter.
Mr. Docter, a Democrat, represented Montgomery County in the State House from 1966 to 1978. The Washington Post described him as a “maverick legislator and consumer advocate” who spoke and voted independently of the entrenched Democratic Party organization.
Mr. Docter was perceived as personable and skilled at getting coverage for himself in the news media. He also had a reputation among his colleagues in Annapolis as an idealist who was sometimes difficult to work with and loath to compromise. He backed Medicaid paying for abortions, and he favored inclusion of bike lanes in public transportation projects.
In 1978, saying he was “ready for a promotion,” he ran for the state Senate in the Democratic primary against incumbent Margaret C. Schweinhaut, who had been in the General Assembly for more than three decades.
He kicked off his campaign by throwing a 47th birthday party for himself, which was widely seen as a deliberate suggestion that his opponent, then admitting to “over 70,” was too old to continue. “Some folks may balk at telling their age — but not Charley Docter,” his press release stated.
The gambit was unsuccessful. (Schweinhaut left Annapolis in 1990 and died seven years later at 93.)
A few years later, Mr. Docter left his suburban base in Kensington for an urban lifestyle in Northwest Washington’s emerging Penn Quarter, north of Pennsylvania Avenue between Sixth and Ninth streets, and south of H Street. He served as a neighborhood commissioner and a presidential appointee to the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.’s board of directors.
Mr. Docter organized the Downtown Housing Now Committee, an advocacy group to encourage people to move into what had been primarily an office and retail district on a steady decline since the 1950s. The 1968 riots after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. only hastened its descent.
In the 1990s, it began to turn around. Three mixed-use buildings — Market Square, the Pennsylvania and the Lansburgh — opened. Trendy restaurants moved into the neighborhood. In 1997, developer and sports team owner Abe Pollin built what then was called MCI Center (later Verizon Center and now Capital One Arena). The sports arena was home to the city’s professional basketball and ice hockey teams and Georgetown University men’s basketball.
Mr. Docter was “one of the people who made it happen,” said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. Mr. Docter, he said, “was a citizen leader who recognized the attractions of downtown living.”
He was instrumental in building support for MCI Center. As a well-known local figure, his move from the suburbs to the city was an example for other suburban empty-nesters, Lynch said. Among Mr. Docter’s close neighbors in the new downtown, he noted, was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).
“The development of the neighborhood has done a lot of good,” Mr. Docter told The Post in 1996. “I think everybody knows that this is some kind of thriving neighborhood. Most cities have some kind of downtown living — just look at Chicago, New York or Philadelphia.”
Charles Alfred Docter was born into a Jewish family in Hamburg on Aug. 5, 1931 — two years before Adolf Hitler came to power. He and his family left Germany three months before the anti-Semitic Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, and they settled in Cincinnati.
Mr. Docter graduated from Ohio’s Kenyon College in 1953 and from the law school at the University of Chicago in 1956. He served in the office of the Navy Judge Advocate General in Washington and then settled permanently in the Washington area after completing Navy service.
In 1958, he married Marcia Kaplan, also a lawyer. From 1973 to 2007, they had a joint legal practice. In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include three children, Henry Docter of Washington, Michael Docter of Hadley, Mass., and Adina Docter of Vienna, Va.; and five grandchildren.