WASHINGTON – Chris Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger spent millions of dollars and thousand of hours this fall campaigning for their seats in Congress — but their actual seats might not be all they had hoped for.
Both of Maryland’s incoming Democratic freshmen ended up near the bottom of Thursday’s lottery to assign House office space, leaving them to choose from the unpopular and inconvenient House offices at the end of the day.
The 53 freshman lawmakers drew numbers Thursday morning that determined the order in which they would select an office. With Ruppersberger drawing number 30 and Van Hollen picking 35, it was all but certain that they would not get “great offices,” said Frank Tiscione, superintendent of the House office buildings.
“The whole process was a little bit like an auction,” Van Hollen said. “Once you get your number at 35, it’s just a question of making the best choice.”
In the end, Van Hollen got suite 1419 in the Longworth Building, 839 square feet of space some distance from the House floor and with a view toward National Airport.
“The office wasn’t my top choice but we were happy with it,” said Van Hollen, the incoming 8th District representative. “We’re just happy to be there.”
Van Hollen, a former staffer on the Senate side of the Hill, said the office selection process was a good way to learn the passageways of the House buildings.
Ruppersberger selected one of the smaller suites, Longworth 1630, which is 862 square feet. While the new 2nd District congressman is stuck with a view of the Longworth courtyard, his staff said it does have the luxury of a five-minute walk to the Capitol.
Like Van Hollen, Ruppersberger didn’t get bogged down by the slim pickings left for freshmen.
“He went into it thinking that he’s a freshman,” said his press secretary, Rick Binetti. “He knew he wasn’t getting the best choice of offices, but he made the best of what is available.”
It may be the luck of a draw, but office selection is taken seriously by the newcomers.
“The nuances of the location are considered because that office will be their inhabitance for the next couple of years,” Tiscione said.
The House office lottery began last week with eight-term incumbents getting first choice, followed every day by members with less seniority, until the freshmen’s turn Thursday. By then, incumbents had picked all of the highly coveted suites in the Rayburn building.
For new congressmen, what is left are generally offices on the upper floors of the Cannon and Longworth buildings, which are far from the Capitol and committee offices. Slow elevators with frequent problems add to the inconvenience of the trip.
Besides the distance, Tiscione said many people do not prefer the upper floors because they are “not as aesthetically pleasing as the rest, and the hallways are plain.”
The offices left Thursday were largely the same, ranging in size from 831 square feet in Longworth to 1,037 square feet in the Cannon House Office building.
Tiscione maintains there are no good or bad offices — but some are undesired. One suite in Longworth, for example, has two rooms on one side of the hallway and the third room across the hall. In Cannon, the three rooms of some suites are divided by a public restroom. Neither Van Hollen nor Ruppersberger was stuck with those suites.
While the day seemed a bit like freshmen hazing, both Maryland freshmen enjoyed the chance to meet their new colleagues.
“Ruppersberger was walking around looking at the offices with some staff, as other people were,” Binetti said. “It was a good way to get to know the building and the 50 other freshman and their staff.”