Freshman lawmaker, trusted team tackle task of finding new digs on the Hill

Freshman lawmaker, trusted team tackle task of finding new digs on the Hill

For newly elected House members wrapping up a week of information-packed briefings and receptions in Washington D.C., Friday's all-day final event was the most anticipated.

The 85 incoming freshmen in the 112th Congress selected their future office space on Capitol Hill.

Incoming GOP Rep. Dennis Ross (Fla.) allowed The Hill to accompany him on his quest to find the perfect office on Friday afternoon.

The new House members -- and their teams -- spent nearly an entire day in the office selection process.

In the past, the Architect of the Capitol and House Administration Committee would hold a lottery for the order of office selection and then the future member and staff had a time period to hunt down the best available space.

But this year, with such a large turnover, a lottery was held in the morning for the order of office selection, then everyone dispersed to scope out the available realty in the three House office buildings, after which the group returned in the afternoon to make the selections.

Ross's wife, Cindy, and personal aide Omar Raschid were on the scene in 2318 Rayburn -- the House Science Committee hearing room -- at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Omar selected #32 from the metal basket full of numbers.

While Rep.-elect Ross and his chief of staff Fred Piccolo attended meetings in the morning, Cindy and Omar raced around the House office buildings to locate the top 32 spaces open to freshmen.

When team Ross met up at 12:45 p.m. outside of the room serving as the Office Selection hub center on Friday, Cindy explained that she worked in interior decorating in the past.

"We took in view priorities, bathroom priority, where it is, entrance priority," Cindy said, adding that when her husband was elected to the Florida Assembly in 2000, "you don't have any choice; you just show up and get your assignment."

At 1:00 p.m., the entire group of incoming members, staff and reporters crowded into the Science Committee room to make their selections.

As one after another of the congressmen-elect chose their offices, Piccolo huddled with team Ross, crossing off room numbers listed on a sheet of yellow-lined notebook paper.

"Oh man," Piccolo said, as member after member picked an office ranked in order on Piccolo's sheet of paper.

After 30 minutes of nail-biting, the gentlemen manning the selection desk announced No. 32, Dennis Ross.

And as luck would have it, Ross was able to select one of his top 10 room choices: 404 Cannon.

A good day for team Ross.

Before team Ross could go inspect the new digs, they had to make a few pit stops to select drapes and choose furniture layouts.

So off they went to choose window treatments, color schemes and carpeting options in another hearing-turned-orientation-station room.

Cannon 404 was one of a number of rooms in the rotation for a make-over. An aide explained that there was a set number of offices that could have an update without having to spend money from the office budget -- a definite plus in the cost-conscious incoming class.

Rep.-elect Ross was busy chatting up his incoming colleagues while Cindy selected a warm off-white wall color, golden drapes, white baseboards and blue tweedy looking carpet.

The former in-house counsel for Disney joked, however, that he had little to do with it because Cindy was in charge of the office selection, decorating and outfitting.

"I leave this stuff to her," Ross explained with a grin.

Then they had to make a stop by yet another hearing space, to sit with one of the 16 architects on duty that day to work with incoming members on the layout of their new office space.

Crowding around a collapsible table, an architect pulled out the blueprint of 404 Cannon to discuss the layout options.

The mustached architect, wielding sharp gray #2 lead pencils, recommended a seating area in Ross’s personal office, a credenza, two telephones, a desk and a refrigerator.

Cindy made sure to request a space for herself for when she works in the office -- a tip gleaned from veteran congressional spouses at a briefing on Thursday.

“You’re going to be able to do this before Jan. 3?" Rep.-elect Ross asked the architect helping with the layout of his new office.

“Yes, sir,” the gentleman said, pencils spilling out of his shirt pocket.

And then off the group went to inspect Ross’s future digs, currently occupied by outgoing Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.), who lost his bid to become senator of the Pelican State.

In they walked, mindful that Melancon did not prevail in his contest.

Apparently there were no hard feelings because several staffers packing up boxes greeted the future occupants with welcoming smiles.

The high ceilings, bright sunny space and close proximity to an elevator in the Cannon office building were major pluses for the incoming freshman member.

Only one disappointment: It looked out on the unattractive courtyard of the Cannon building.

Aside from that, Ross scored a winner.

Even if he was disappointed with the view, it was better than the alternative, not having an office at all or ... occupying the office one floor above his.

One of Ross's fellow Rep.-elect colleagues, Mike Grimm (R-N.Y.), who defeated Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon, joked that he got the "Penthouse," noting that his new digs were on the undesirable 5th floor of Cannon.

Ross also said he would be happy because, unlike many members, the longtime attorney pointed out that he had a solid team coming with him to D.C.

Piccolo and Omar both spent time on Capitol Hill in previous lives; they worked together for former Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) as well as other offices.

“That was the best thing about our situation - because of their experience being up here and then spending the last 22 months with us, our family, our community, we knew one thing at the end of the day when we were successful, that we had a team. And loyalty is the biggest quality that you look for," Ross explained.

Piccolo's family lives in Ross's central Florida district, represented formerly by outgoing Rep. Adam Putnam (R). Putnam opted to run for statewide office in 2010 -- and was just elected as the Sunshine State's agricultural commissioner.

At the end of a long week, the exhausted but excited group departed for the hotel before heading back to Florida.

Photos by Greg Nash