So Long, Curtis

by Stuart Rothenberg March 19, 2015 · 10:21 AM EDT

I had not spoken with Curtis Gans for the past couple of years, but his death on Sunday, at age 77, brought back a flood of memories.

Curtis and I had two things in common: We were both born in Manhattan and graduated from the Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Each time I spoke with him, I tried to picture Curtis as a boy, wearing a jacket and tie while walking to class or attending daily chapel services at school. The picture never quite made sense, and I chuckled to myself when I thought of Curtis at Riverdale.

Although he spent years as an activist and was knee-deep in partisan politics (including internal Democratic Party politics), Curtis shifted gears at some point, apparently during the 1970s.

My discussions with him were entirely about voter turnout in primaries and general elections. With me at least, he never promoted an ideological agenda. He was a numbers guy who collected, aggregated and distributed data when it was hard to get the information and a reporter didn’t merely have to hit a few keys on his computer to pull up the numbers.

Curtis became a guru of political participation, a one-man band who carved out a niche for himself. I still remember receiving packets of data regularly from him showing turnout percentages by state, as well as a thoughtful and dispassionate analysis of the meaning of the numbers and associated trends.

Like many reporters and analysts, I found him to be a terrific resource when I was writing about voter turnout, and I was happy to help him in return on those few occasions when he called me to ask about races in particular states.

If you’ve been in D.C. for only 10 or 15 years, you may have never met — or even heard of — Curtis Gans. But he was one of those interesting people of politics who often fly under the radar, and his story (here and here) is worth knowing.