His friend and former colleague Mark Segraves, a reporter at WRC (Channel 4), said that Mr. Plotkin “had been ill for some time” but did not provide further details. D.C. police found Mr. Plotkin’s body at his home Sunday after receiving a welfare call, and a spokeswoman with the medical examiner’s office, Beverly Fields, said the cause and manner of death had not yet been determined.
“From a D.C. politics standpoint, this feels a bit like Tim Russert’s passing did for U.S. politics,” the D.C. Council posted on its Twitter account. “There was quality commentary before him, there will be after, but it’s never quite the same.”
Celebrated for his deep institutional knowledge of Washington-area politics, Mr. Plotkin was often called upon by television and print reporters for his insight into the inner workings of the John A. Wilson Building, the mayor and council’s home on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
But he was known less as a dispassionate journalist than as a cantankerous, sometimes bombastic commentator and rabble-rouser, described by friends as a kind of P.T. Barnum for the issues of D.C. statehood and voting rights.
Mr. Plotkin referred to the city America’s “last colony,” because its 700,000 taxpaying residents do not get a vote in Congress, and he was thrown out of the White House in 2007 after asking first lady Laura Bush a question about statehood. He called himself “America’s guest” while attending the 2016 Republican National Convention, where he sought to rally politicians behind making the District the 51st state, and would have attended Thursday’s House hearings on statehood were he not sidelined by illness, Segraves said.
A former advance man for the Democratic presidential campaigns of Edmund Muskie, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, Mr. Plotkin entered radio broadcasting in the 1980s as a political commentator at WAMU (88.5 FM), the District’s public radio station.
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He led a Friday public-affairs program with Mike Cuthbert and later Derek McGinty, covering the District’s financial turmoil and Mayor Marion Barry with a biting style “as reminiscent of Martin and Lewis as it is of Jennings and Brinkley,” Washington Post journalist Marc Fisher wrote in 1997. Mr. Plotkin eventually recruited Kojo Nnamdi, current host of “The Politics Hour,” to join him in the studio.
In 2000, he galvanized an effort to replace the District license plate slogan “Celebrate & Discover” with “Taxation Without Representation,” an idea suggested to him in an email from one of his listeners.
Mr. Plotkin moved to the all-news station WTOP (103.5 FM) in 2002, where he continued to work as a commentator before being dismissed in 2012 after berating a colleague, according to a Washington Post report at the time.
“This will hurt me as a peripheral figure here in D.C.,” he joked to The Post after his ouster, noting that he would continue doing commentary for the Canadian broadcaster CTV, “but I’ll still be a major international figure.”
Mr. Plotkin also did commentary for WTTG (Channel 5) and the BBC, and wrote columns and op-ed pieces for publications including The Post, the Hill and Legal Times. But he never limited himself entirely to journalism: In the 1980s, he won two terms on the D.C. Democratic State Committee and twice ran unsuccessfully for D.C. Council.
He also exerted his influence on the air, notably after the cash-strapped D.C. government agreed in 1995 to turn over most of the Wilson Building in exchange for a roughly $50 million renovation overseen by developer T. Conrad Monts. The Environmental Protection Agency was slated to move into two-thirds of the building, with the District effectively consigned to whatever room it could find.
For three years, Mr. Plotkin devoted much of his radio program to the issue. He ultimately convinced council member Jack Evans to write a letter to President Bill Clinton, signed by Evans’s colleagues on the council, calling for help. Soon after, EPA Administrator Carol Browner told District officials her agency would look elsewhere for space.
“More than any D.C. official, Plotkin paved the way for the deal ensuring that the Wilson Building will remain the one place on Pennsylvania Avenue that D.C. folks can call their own,” journalist David Carr, then the editor of Washington City Paper, wrote in 1999. The D.C. Council later described Mr. Plotkin’s role in the episode as “decisive”; his picture was reportedly hung outside the building.
“I admit to being a maniac on this issue, but what was happening was so perverse, so obscene, that it could not go unopposed,” Mr. Plotkin told City Paper. “You know, in this city, when you believe passionately in something and fight hard for it, you are marginalized and viewed as a zealot. Well, I think this place could use a little zealotry. We are an abused citizenry that lacks a sense of place and is so used to accepting crumbs that we were willing to go along with this. And I couldn’t stand to see apathy carry the day.”
Mark L. Plotkin was born in Mason City, Iowa, on April 10, 1947. Raised in Chicago, he grew up listening to Len O’Connor, a radio and television commentator who spurred an early interest in politics — especially the rough-and-tumble sort he prized in Chicago. (By comparison, District politics had “no character, no pizazz, no flair,” in his view.)
Mr. Plotkin attended George Washington University partly to escape the Midwest, and graduated in 1969 on what he described as the “five-year plan,” playing on the tennis team while studying American history.
He taught at schools in Chicago and Washington before switching his focus to politics by 1972, and later served as a deputy finance director for the presidential campaigns of Morris K. Udall, Edward M. Kennedy and Gary Hart.
In radio, Mr. Plotkin acquired a reputation for a short temper, and “engaged in at least a dozen shouting matches with colleagues,” according to The Post, before his departure from WTOP.
“Mark is a package deal,” Nnamdi said in 2012. “You get his remarkable institutional knowledge, the encyclopedia of politics he carries around in his head, his passion for [District] voting rights — and you get a whole lot of attitude. His assets are his defects. They’re inseparable and they’re one and the same.”
For his commentaries, Mr. Plotkin won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award in 2010 for excellence in writing. He has no immediate surviving family members and was never married, according to Segraves.
In a sign of Mr. Plotkin’s standing in the District, a 2018 ceremony marking the donation of his papers to George Washington University drew former mayors Sharon Pratt, Anthony Williams and Vincent C. Gray; council members Evans and Mary M. Cheh; and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who declared March 29, 2018, Mark Plotkin Day in the District.
“When statehood happens for D.C.,” Pratt said
at the event, “writ large will be the name of Mark Plotkin.”