Freshman John Edwards settling into Senate’s last Spartan quarters

WASHINGTON — The first thing you notice about Sen. John Edwards’ temporary office space is the carpeting.

The squares of stained fabric, hop-scotched together in shades of camel brown, are not exactly plush. Nor is the furniture — beaten-up, nicked desks and chairs that look like they belong in a hotel consignment store.

Edwards may be a freshman on of one of the world’s most powerful teams, but for the moment he’s got the last locker in the gym.

“He’s No. 100 on the waiting list for permanent offices,” said Chapel Hill native Josh Stein, Edwards’ baby-faced deputy chief of staff. “We don’t know where we’ll be in three months.”

So for now, the skeleton staff of 10 commanding Edwards’ Washington, D.C., ship is answering phones and mail, planning legislative agendas and filling in positions in a sprawling corner of the Hart Senate Office Building. Room 825 stands at the end of a long, vertigo-inducing hallway broken up only by the beacons of Old Glory and the North Carolina state flag. Inside, state tourism posters provide a good indication that the inhabitant is only visiting.

Stein, a 32-year-old Dartmouth graduate, is one of 10 North Carolina natives on Edwards’ total staff, which includes four workers who are based in the Raleigh office. He served as Edwards’ campaign manager and worked at the Self-Help Credit Union in Durham before moving to the Senate headquarters this month.

Stein says Edwards’ mailbox is already full with letters from North Carolinians voicing their concerns.

“We’re getting a lot of mail from folks concerned about impeachment, obviously, but people are also calling to offer their congratulations, make invitations for events — and offer their resumes,” he said. At least a dozen positions have yet to be filled, including press secretary, legislative director and permanent scheduler. Stein expects the Washington office ultimately to number about 20 people, with 13 additional state directors working out of the Century Post Office Building in Raleigh and other state bureaus.

Edwards and his staff are likely to be in temporary congressional housing until March.

“Everything in the Senate is seniority. Everything,” said Tamara Somerville, staff director for the Senate Rules Committee. Every time a senator retires or is defeated in an election, precious office space opens up, and the most senior of the remaining members has the option of moving to one of those spaces.

“What happens is that the senators evaluate what offices are open, see if they think they need more square footage, and then the process starts at the top of the seniority list, which would be Strom Thurmond, who’s 96,” Somerville said.

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Date: January 13, 1999 Page: C4 Copyright, 1999, The Durham Herald Company