An undated photo of Tom Sherwood and Mark Plotkin
An undated photo of Tom Sherwood and Mark Plotkin Credit: Courtesy Tom Sherwood

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Mark Plotkin was impatient, impolite, and insistent. 

That’s how this reporter, his friend, remembers the political commentator of four decades who was found dead Sunday in his Glover Park apartment. He was 72. 

And 72 was the age of then-Ward 3 Council member Polly Shackleton back in 1982 when Plotkin brashly first ran for public office. He said Shackleton, seeking a third term, may have had Democratic roots back to Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman, but it was time for new blood on the D.C. Council. 

Yet, in an interview with me, then working for the Washington Post, Plotkin made a rare acknowledgement of a disadvantage. “I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t say Polly was starting with a tremendous advantage.” She won easily. 

Plotkin was foot-on-the-gas from the moment I first met him that year at a local Democratic Party event at the University of the District of Columbia. The 35-year-old Plotkin barreled up just inches from this reporter and starting talking about himself, his issues, his campaign. Suddenly he stopped and growled, “You’re not writing this down.” The unamused reporter replied, “I’m not writing, I’m listening.”

Thus began my long association with Plotkin, who never mastered actually winning elective office—he ran one more time—even though he knew most every statistic, local and national. Plotkin would call and cajole reporters to write this or cover that. And tell you how to write it.

Raised in Chicago, Plotkin had the bearing of a ward alderman there, gruff and to the point. He bristled at the southern manners of the Post reporter often covering him. “You and that bullshit southern polite crap you use,” he’d scoff, refusing to believe it was better to be polite below the Mason-Dixon Line.  

Decades on, Plotkin delighted in telling and retelling the story of my son, then-five-year-old Peyton Sherwood, who once greeted him as he drove up to our home on Emery Place NW near Tenley Circle. “Dirty car,” my son had said bluntly. “See,” Plotkin would say, “even your son doesn’t have that southern bullshit.”

Pleasantries (or the lack of them) aside, Plotkin embraced issues if not people. His advocacy helped keep the bankrupt District government from turning the John A. Wilson Building over to the federal government. Plotkin took an idea from a radio listener and demanded that D.C. put “taxation without representation” on our license tags. 

At both WAMU with host Kojo Nnamdi and later at WTOP, Plotkin brought the politics of D.C. to life. He bullied reluctant guests and challenged diversions or falsehoods.  

In recent years, Plotkin had been ill and his booming presence was missed at events like last week’s statehood hearing on Capitol Hill. If life were fair, he would have been there, telling D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser exactly what they should have said. 

An earlier version of this article stated that Plotkin was born in Chicago. He was raised there. 

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