By Jordy Yager - 06/29/10 10:00 AM EDT
Congressional offices come with many perks. One stems from the simple fact they are perched on a hill. And while that ascent may be a pain for those staffers and lawmakers who walk to work, it provides them with some of the best views in Washington.
From the ability to gauge the weather to the witnessing of history — be it the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon or a president’s inauguration — office windows are a gateway to the outside world, something staffers and members of Congress might need every once in a while amid the relentless pace of life on Capitol Hill.
In talking to people who occupy the offices with grand views, some opted not to participate for fear that competition could arise for their office if others found out what spectacular vistas lay in wait. Several offices said they even go so far as to close their blinds deliberately when other lawmakers stop by. But other offices were proud of their panoramas, and they let us inside to see what it’s like to look out.
House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.)
Slaughter’s third-floor office boasts two east-facing windows that look down on the Capitol East Front and the East Plaza, the Library of Congress, the Cannon House Office Building and a section of the Supreme Court. Her south-facing windows look onto the Northern Virginia hills, which alight with flowering colors during spring, she says.
But Slaughter says she doesn’t spend much time looking out the windows because she’s busy working underneath the giant chandelier that hangs over her lengthy wooden conference table. It wasn’t until recently that Slaughter really understood what her view affords her.
“I had some guests up here on St. Patrick’s Day, and the president, the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were on the East steps speaking, and standing here, you could see everything that was happening down there,” Slaughter says.
“My guests had never been so close to them before. They were excited to death,” she says. “And I didn’t even know that I could see down there, but it was probably the best view in the House.”
As she talks about the views from her windows, Slaughter fields a phone call. The caller asks if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is still holding her morning press conference on the East steps. Slaughter looks out her window and responds, “I don’t see anyone down there right now.”
Capitol S-331: Senate Chaplain Barry Black
Black has one of the most spectacular views offices on Capitol Hill can offer. From his desk on the Capitol’s third floor, Black looks out onto the entire West Front of the Capitol and the expanse of the National Mall all the way to the Potomac River.
Black says he draws countless breaths of inspiration for the prayers he offers each day in the Senate by taking in the view out of his window, which is just steps from the upper chamber’s floor and next door to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) coveted hideaway office.
“It’s different in the early morning before the sun comes up,” he said. “It’s different at night, when all of the lights come on. So it’s with some intentionality that I make the time for the inspiration [from the view].
“It’s icing on the cake of the Capitol Hill experience because of the memories associated with this area: the march on Washington — the famous civil rights march — and a number of other significant demonstrations for our nation,” says Black, who notes that, in addition to the architectural splendor the view affords, it’s also one of the few that provides the natural beauty of trees, flowers and water.
Black says pages, staffers and even some lawmakers have heard about his window’s view through word of mouth, and all stop by to pay a visit.
“It’s almost like there’s a sign outside of this door that says, ‘Scenic view,’ ” Black jokes.
Rayburn House Office Building 2445: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
Kucinich’s office sits in the southwest corner of the top floor of the Rayburn House Office Building. His windows offer one of the best unobstructed views over all of southwest Washington, including the Potomac River, the Nationals baseball stadium and approximately 30 miles into Northern Virginia, Kucinich estimates.
Though Kucinich is so busy during the day that evening times are the only real chance he gets to enjoy the view, he says it’s a sight worth waiting for. On several occasions during the past year, Kucinich has unwound after a long day’s work, turned the lights off in the office and watched the sky light up over the Nationals stadium with his wife.
“The incredible thing about the office is the fireworks over the stadium,” Kucinich says. “It’s amazing. Sometimes my wife and I will be up there and have a romantic evening together watching the fireworks.”
Cannon House Office Building 506: Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)
Cassidy’s office is in the Cannon House Office Building’s fifth-floor “attic,” so named because only a few of the building’s elevators go all the way up to the top level.
Typically, the inward-facing offices in “the attic” are the last to be claimed in the office lottery, and freshman lawmakers like Cassidy often get stuck with them. Their views amount to little more than looking at other offices across the empty courtyard. But Cassidy says he passed up an office on a lower floor — closer to the House floor and other members — specifically because of his office’s view.
Above the roof of the fifth floor offices across the courtyard from him, the top half of the Capitol Dome rises like an iceberg.
While most lawmakers situate their desks facing the door to their office, Cassidy’s desk is nestled in the corner of the room facing directly toward the window and the dome outside.
“Late at night when I’m working and missing my family, I say, ‘Wow, that’s why I’m here,’ ” Cassidy says. “When folks come and visit, they always say, ‘Why is your desk looking out, instead of in?’ And I tell them to come look at the view.”
Of course, not every congressional office looks out onto mesmerizing landscapes. Some offices are tucked into concrete-laden corners or situated near basement boiler rooms, while others are windowless spaces folded into the creases of the Capitol’s architecture. Here are a few examples of offices with the worst views on Capitol Hill.
Capitol HB-30: Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard
Situated at the base of the stairs leading up to the Capitol’s crypt, Beard’s office lies behind a painted wooden door with slats, typical of the other office entrances nearby. But unlike his fellow House officers’, Beard’s office has no windows. His office declined to comment for this article.
Longworth House Office Building 1237, 1239 and 1339: Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Bill Foster (D-Ill.)
Kilroy, Moore and Foster all have offices situated in an odd architectural anomaly of the Longworth House Office Building. Directly outside most of their offices’ windows is a cement wall that encases an elevator shaft, which rises to the top of the building. While there is an opening between the two elevator shafts that lets light in through the windows, the prospects of seeing much more than a cement wall are dim. A few of the better-situated windows look out across building’s courtyard.
Kilroy’s spokesman Josh Rosenblum acknowledged the elevator shafts were a daily part of the office’s view. But, he jokingly added, they were fitting for the congresswoman’s mission.
“Our resplendent views of the elevator shaft help Rep. Kilroy remain symbolically aware of the ups and downs of the economy and Wall Street, both of which she’s fighting to help mend,” said Rosenblum. “On the other hand, those with the window view can see the sky, which is in fact the limit for what we can do for our constituents.”
Moore and Fosters’ offices did not return calls for a comment.
Cannon House Office Building B-56: Office of the House Historian
Anthony Wallis, a spokesman for the office of the House Historian, said he suggested enlarging a picture of the Capitol and putting it over the window to block the view of the parking garage.
While the office would love to have a better view, Wallis said the basement environment gives them the academic feel that most of the staff is used to as they plow through countless hours of research on the intricacies of the House’s history.