Before the perks, the pick: Freshmen hope, plot in Hill office lottery

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, now a freshman member of Congress, strikes a pose before selecting his number in the office lottery. (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

The numbered chips that determine the order in which freshmen lawmakers will select their offices are counted before being placed in a mahogany box. (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

Rep.-elect Andy Biggs. R-Mesa, takes his turn in the freshman House office lottery in Washington with middling results: Biggs drew No. 19 out of 50 in the box. (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

A Capitol Hill hearing room packed with 48 incoming members of Congress and their staffs, before the lottery that determines their offices for the next two years. (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A buzzing group of anxious staffers and strategists packed a Capitol Hill room with 48 newly elected House members Thursday, eagerly awaiting their first assignments in the coming Congress – an office.

The biennial freshmen office lottery is a tradition in a city where a room isn’t just a room, but can indicate your place in the pecking order. Lawmakers brought strategies and good luck charms in hopes of drawing a low number from the mahogany box at the front of the room.

Rep.-elect Andy Biggs, R-Mesa, considers himself “a pretty lucky guy,” but still took part in the fun, pausing to rub his temples and send some brain waves into the box before reaching in with his hand – and pulling No. 19 of 50.

Not all the incoming freshmen were as subtle. Some displayed good luck charms and a number called on a higher power.

That seemed to work for California Rep.-elect Lou Correa who crossed himself before drawing chip No. 1, a bit of luck that brought his fellow freshmen to their feet cheering. Correa made his way back down the aisle, high-fiving members like a talk-show host.

The next member-elect, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, pulled the last number, 50, immediately after Correa, bringing groans from the crowd while staffers held their faces in their hands.

Crist shrugged and laughed off his bad luck.

-Cronkite News video by Claire Caulfield

But other members were having none of it: While several shook Correa’s hand or had him bless them before drawing, Rep.-elect Drew Ferguson of Georgia took it a step further, vigorously rubbing Correa’s head for luck, then running away when Crist jokingly offered up his head for a pat as well.

It must have paid off, because Ferguson ended up with No. 2.

Other representatives brought their own good luck charms with mixed results. Rep.-elect Don Bacon of Nebraska had his 55th Wing Air Force coin in his pocket and Rep.-elect Anthony Brown of Maryland pulled a triumphant pose before his draw. Both ended up drawing numbers above 30.

Arizona’s other freshmen, Rep.-elect Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, managed just fine without the theatrics, calmly pulling No. 16 as his chief of staff fidgeted and wiped his brow.

Members with the lowest numbers get the first pick of open Capitol Hill offices and No. 16 was good enough to get O’Halleran room 126 in the Cannon House Office Building – an office that has had only freshmen occupants for the past 10 years. But it’s the building where O’Halleran was hoping to land.

He’s already planning to decorate his office with mementos from the 12 Native American tribes in his sprawling 1st District, as well as art to represent the mining industry and national forests in Arizona.

“I want to bring to the office the feel of the district,” O’Halleran said. “It has the culture of a multitude of diversity and so that’s what I want my office to look like.”

Biggs’ office will be on the sixth floor of the Longworth House Office Building, but his decorating plans are not as developed, with plans for “maybe some flags, maybe some paintings that I have.”

The lottery was over after about an hour of bipartisan hugs and high fives – maybe the last time, one staffer noted, all the elected officials in the room are likely to get along that well. The 115th Congress will be formally sworn in on Jan. 3.