To pick his new Capitol Hill office location, Congressman-elect Jeff Van Drew participated in a historic House of Representatives tradition.
He and 84 other freshmen chose numbers on cubes from an old wooden box.
“Our number was not so great — it was 69,” said Van Drew, soon to be the Democratic representative for the 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of South Jersey.
The high lottery number meant that only 16 of 435 U.S. House members chose their offices after him, since freshmen are last in line to pick.
Van Drew — who describes himself as a moderate, with some similarities to his Republican predecessor, Frank LoBiondo — will be sworn in Thursday.
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LoBiondo agreed the two have much in common, despite being from different parties. He attributed that to the nature of the district.
“The district is dominated by independents” who don’t tend to extreme political opinions, said LoBiondo. “At one time, independents outnumbered both parties put together.”
His advice to Van Drew?
“I always think if you do a good job, that’s the best politics,” said LoBiondo, who said some of his staff are staying on with Van Drew for a smoother transition for constituents. “When people call me for help, I have no idea what party affiliation they are.”
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Van Drew has been getting ready for weeks, choosing and furnishing an office, finding a place to live in Washington, hiring staff and applying for committee assignments.
The lottery has been in place since members first got offices in 1908, according to the House historian’s website.
Before that, there was just a desk lottery for seats on the floor of the House.
Despite his lottery pick, Van Drew said he’s happy with the outcome.
His chief of staff, Allison Murphy, who has been with him for 16 years in politics in New Jersey and will remain his chief of staff in D.C., had spotted a large office of more than 1,000 square feet on the third floor of the Cannon Building.
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It’s a few doors away from the first office of Congressman William Hughes, the last Democrat to hold the seat from 1975 to 1995. Hughes was followed by LoBiondo.
Van Drew will find out his committee assignments in January but requested joining the natural resources and transportation and infrastructure committees.
“The one I’d definitely like to get is natural resources. There is nobody on the East Coast on that committee,” said Van Drew. “Yet it affects fishing, bag limits and everything else that goes with fishing.”
It’s also important for issues dealing with the oceans in general, he said.
With the Port of Cape May in his district — the fifth largest port on the East Coast — that committee will be vital, he said.
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He may have to wait to get onto the transportation and infrastructure committee, which LoBiondo was on for years.
“It deals with the Coast Guard subcommittee and FAA Tech Center,” said Van Drew.
While committees are important, he intends to do plenty of work on issues like veterans affairs without being on the Armed Services committee.
“You can’t get every committee,” he said.
Back at home, Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, is preparing to be nominated to succeed Van Drew for his unexpired term as state senator. The two have worked closely together representing the same New Jersey legislative district for years, sharing offices and staff.
“When I was getting into politics, I never foresaw myself taking that step,” said Andrzejczak. “But with Sen. Van Drew moving on, I’m happy for him and happy to keep doing work we have been doing.”
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Meanwhile, Van Drew is pretty much ready to hit the ground running in D.C.
Murphy and other key staff members from New Jersey will transition with him. He has hired a communications director and staff to handle legislation and foreign affairs, he said.
But he will probably add to the D.C. staff once the job starts.
Here in New Jersey, two of LoBiondo’s longtime staffers will stay with Van Drew for at least six months. They are Linda Hinckley, who will continue to handle constituent services, and Michael Francis, who will continue to handle veterans affairs, Van Drew said.
He picked his Cannon Building office furniture from a congressional warehouse that had some very old pieces in it, he said.
“They refurbish it. There’s furniture there, that underneath the leather, has horsehide,” said Van Drew. “It goes back a very long time.”
The D.C. office is about twice as big as his Washington studio apartment.
“It’s tiny, less than 500 square feet,” he said of the apartment. “It’s a place to lay your head, read a book, watch TV and get some sleep.”
Most weekends he’ll take the train back home to South Jersey for constituent meetings, events and to see his family, he said.
But don’t expect a lot of town meetings from him. They’re not his style, he said.
“Very often they are set up to make you look good or bad,” he said. “I want to be able to talk to smaller groups of people around a conference table, as I have done for many years. Or one on one.”
“I plan to have a very open policy with the press and everyone,” Van Drew added.