New Congress’ first priority: Scrambling for a good office
There’s a mad scramble among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and it doesn’tinvolvejockeyingforcoveted committee assignments in the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
Tons of paper, furnishings, equipment and years’ worth of nostalgia are being yanked from the suites of lawmakers who weren’t re-elected this month or are retiring, making wayforcolleagueswhocalleddibson their office space.
In a domino effect, junior members now stuck with low-status offices grab what they can get among thenewlyopenedsuitesandpassthe dregs down to the freshmen. The House has finished its selections. The Senate is still at it.
Then,therearethecoveted“hideaways”intheCapitolbuilding—unmarked locked offices that perhaps 80 senators and fewer House members claim. Some of those are up for grabs, too.
Each congressional office has its mix of location, view, square footage andhistory—andanunofficialranking — that conveys a sense of who a lawmaker is and where he or she is going.
AviewoftheCapitolortheWashington Monument is a big deal; a view of the staff parking lot is not.
The House assigns empty offices by a complex lottery system, the Senate by seniority.
Retirements of senior members usuallyyieldthebestspaces.Forexample,thisyearbringsthedeparture of Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, a TexasDemocratfirstelectedin1982, snagged Mr. Hyde’s prime Rayburn building office in the lottery.
“It’sadead-onviewoftheCapitol. You can see the Mall. It’s the first floor,andit’sabiggerspace”thanhis previousoffice,saidMr.Ortiz’scommunications director, Cathy Travis.
Congressional officials wouldn’t estimate the cost of an average office shuffle, but the taxpayers’ tab can reach thousands of dollars per member.
Some lawmakers covet offices once held by figures such as Presi- dents Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson.Othersoptforspace:Thesmallest suites are less than 850 square feet, the largest twice that.
As in high school, freshmen can’t be choosy.
The Cannon House Office Building’s fifth floor is considered a freshman trap. Storage cages line the walls without windows. Members’ officeshavewindowswithcourtyard views, but the air conditioning is spottyinsummer,andtheofficesare hardtogettobecausesomeelevators go only to the fourth floor.
Evenlessdesirablearetwo“split” suites on lower floors of Cannon.
Just ask Rep.-elect Michael Arcuri, New York Democrat, who got thelastpickinthelottery.Togetfrom oneendofhisofficetotheother,he’ll have to leave and re-enter through another door.
This year’s 10 incoming senators will choose offices based on a ranking that considers past service in the House, presidential administrations or governorships, and state population.
In the Senate, the Russell office building, with its rich marble and fireplaces,conveysthegreatestsense of tradition. But lawmakers often choose office buildings based on the proximityoftheirofficestothecommittees on which they serve.
Sen.-elect Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, said that his space “will probably be a broom closet — I’m 100 out of 100.”