Congressman-elect Ben McAdams goes office hunting as he preps to join Congress

(Thomas Burr | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep.-elect Ben McAdams tours a potential new office on Friday as he prepares to become a new member of Congress.

Washington • Rep.-elect Ben McAdams didn’t win the lottery. But he didn’t lose either.

Utah’s incoming congressman and his fellow freshman members turned out Friday for the biennial game of picking their new offices. To make it fair, every member draws a number and the lower pick gets the better office.

McAdams drew 47 — out of 85.

“Right in the middle,” said McAdams, a Democrat who ran on being a moderate in Congress.

The congressional office lottery is part dead-serious and part circus. In the end, the office you pick is yours for two years, and you and your staff have to deal with the cramped quarters, the ongoing construction or the long slog to the elevator that seems to be run by a sloth.

When a new member drew an embarrassingly high number, an audience member offered an enthusiastic reassurance: “You’re still in Congress,” she said.

Others made sure to tout their home state while drawing their numbers, or gave a shoutout to their favorite sports team. There were no cartwheels or backflips this year, but it’s been known to happen.

New members of Congress essentially get the dregs, the offices that more senior members put up with for a term but don’t want to stay in for any longer than required. No one, for example, wants the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building, a space accessible by only one set of elevators and the equivalent of a steam pipe distribution closet.

McAdams did end up in the Cannon Building but on the first floor. And his office is conveniently right down the hall from Rep. Rob Bishop, who likes the high ceilings and history of the first marble-columned House office building. It’s close enough that McAdams can borrow a cup of sugar from the Utah Republican.

“I thought about that,” McAdams joked. In actuality, the congressman-elect said he chose the office because it would make it easier for constituents to visit him and Bishop.

McAdams, who won a close race over GOP Rep. Mia Love that was only called last week, has been going through the freshman orientation for new members, a process that can be excruciatingly detailed but also fun.

The office lottery is a prime example.

A staffer had assembled a large stack of office schematics and noted where they are in the office buildings, the square footage of each and whether the space is contiguous (yes, some offices are separated).

After drawing a number, the incoming members have less than two hours to figure out which offices they may try for. After drawing No. 47, McAdams hunkered down in a basement cafeteria, prioritizing piles of potential spaces as one, two and nope.

“This one is by the Dunkin' Donuts, but it’s two floors up, so it works out,” he says as if stair-climbing erases a glazed guilty pleasure.

In the short time he had, McAdams toured a few of his potential new offices. Some were clearly being vacated; others had, well, a funky odor.

“Our boss sleeps here,” an aide noted.

McAdams, for the record, does not want to bed down in his office like former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who famously slept on a fold-out cot. McAdams has been apartment hunting.

“We haven’t got there yet,” he says, “but we’re avoiding the cot.”

Chaffetz, by the way, called McAdams to wish him well — and made sure to get a little jab in. Chaffetz had pulled No. 6 in the office lottery in his freshman year, the former congressman noted.

McAdams doesn’t take office until Jan. 3. Right now, he’s just trying to get his sea legs and, well, try not to get lost.

Leaving the fun-sounding “Floor Plan Meeting Room,” McAdams whirled around and found a seasoned congressional staffer.

“Cannon is this way?” the newbie asked.