Frosh Pick at Leftovers

Posted November 19, 2004 at 6:50pm

On Friday afternoon, the Rayburn Building resembled the NBA draft:

With the No. 1 overall pick in the freshman office lottery, Rep.-elect Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) selects Room 224 in the Cannon House Office Building.

And with that, the incoming freshmen were off, choosing their homes away from home for the next two years. Beginning at 1 p.m. sharp, Members-elect began selecting office space, starting with McHenry and finishing up with Rep.-elect Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), the unluckiest of all the incoming lawmakers.

McHenry was slightly bemused by his good fortune, saying he was very happy with the results. He noted that he was both “youngest in age and lowest in lottery number; there must be some sort of correlation.” Others were less supportive, offering a smattering of good-natured boos when his number was announced.

He said he chose the office because it is “nice to have [Speaker Dennis] Hastert, [Majority Leader Tom] DeLay and [GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah] Pryce right around the corner.” In addition to his distinguished neighbors, McHenry noted the office is currently held by “a strong conservative,” a persuasion the incoming Member shares with the outgoing Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

A senior aide in Toomey’s office said McHenry made a great selection with the first pick. “The location is pretty good,” the staffer said, “particularly for a freshman.” Although there is no view to speak of, the suite is on the street level in Cannon, which means it is “easy to get to the floor for votes” and allows constituents easy access to the office.

Cannon 224 also has a little more square footage than most offices available in the lottery, as well as higher ceilings. Toomey, who lost a Senate bid this year, picked the office when he was a second-term Member; McHenry’s ability to pick it up as a freshman was quite the stroke of luck.

Prep Work

The incoming freshmen gathered in Rayburn at 9 a.m. to find the order in which they would choose their office space for the upcoming term. After that, the Members-elect scattered to the various office buildings to scope out the available rooms.

After Rep.-elect Mike McCaul (R-Texas) drew No. 12, he and and his chief of staff, Mike Miller, left to finish the scouting process.

After touring several offices in the Cannon and Longworth buildings, McCaul and Miller took a short break in the Longworth cafeteria to finish developing their strategy.

Having spread out floorplans for Longworth and Cannon, the only buildings with rooms left, the two mapped out their top choices.

“Well, this office is closer to the subway …”

“Mary Bono has a nice office …”

“The first floor is considerably noisier …”

“Where’s the nearest elevator?”

On and on the discussion went. As with most Members, it came down to two things for McCaul. The first was “location, location, location.” The second was size — the bigger the office, the more appealing it is.

Of course, there were a number of smaller factors to consider. Is the carpet being replaced over the break? Are there drapes in the office? What’s the view? Do the windows open? The list goes on.

As decision time neared, McCaul and Miller narrowed down their list to 13 choices. Cannon dominated the Representative-elect’s wish list; when asked about those who would choose the smaller offices for slightly closer-to-the-chamber real estate, McCaul just nodded and said, “Stay in Longworth; we like that.”

At 1:20 p.m., it was McCaul’s turn to select. He chose Cannon 415, the eighth office on his list of 13. Although a little smaller than some of the others that remained, it is quite close to an elevator.

Very pleased with his choice, McCaul emphasized that he is “just happy to have an office. I’d take a janitor’s closet. … We’re really very lucky.”

Recount’s Upside

Another lucky Member-elect is Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.). Although he does have to make it through a recount to secure his seat in the House, Sodrel might have an office more desirable than the rest of his classmates.

Because Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), the man Sodrel appeared to defeat on Nov. 2, assumed he would be leaving the House, his office went into the pool of available space. Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) then selected that office in her class’s drawing, putting her suite into the pool available for the second-term Representatives.

But when Indiana’s 9th district officially went to a recount, Hart’s office was pulled out of the pool of available space. Should Sodrel win, he will then move into Hart’s Longworth office. Should Hill make a comeback to retain the seat, he will be forced into an office downgrade for the next two years.

Cages Are a Draw

One of the most surprising turn of events was the quickness with which the fifth floor of Cannon was snapped up. Rep.-elect Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) led the charge, selecting Room 508 with the 20th pick. All of the much-maligned floor’s space, oftentimes referred to as the “Cannon cages,” was gone when five Members-elect had yet to pick.

Gohmert made a compelling argument for his pick. “The office we will have has more footage,” Gohmert said, as well as “a view of the Dome.” Additionally, the office is right across from a storage closet that can be used to keep the office from becoming cluttered. Who cares if the elevators don’t all reach that floor?

Another perk is that the office is one of the few with a “window you can open. I like having fresh air blowing through the office.” Gohmert points out that the office space must not be entirely unbearable, since some Members choose not to move. “I can see why some people would stay, like [Rep.] Tom Osborne [R-Neb.],” he said.

A staff member of the current occupant echoed some of the positives that Gohmert brought up when asked about the office. “The biggest plus is the view of the Capitol Dome,” the aide said.

Though, “he needs his walking shoes,” the staffer pointed out. “I haven’t actually measured the distance, but I believe it’s the longest walk possible” to the floor of the House.

Poor Start for Aide

Bringing up the rear was Fitzpatrick. Instead of choosing his number himself, he sent up his chief of staff, Mike Mabin, to make the pick. He chose poorly.

“I’m thinking there must be a reason I picked the last number,” Mabin recalled. Right after the number was announced several people were heard to yell out “uh-oh” and “you’re fired.”

Fitzpatrick took the pick in stride, however, joking that “it helped our draft strategy.” Mabin also kidded around, saying that the office is probably “a nuclear waste site.” Fortunately for Fitzpatrick, Longworth Room 1516 is no Yucca Mountain.