Springfield State Journal Register

January 4, 2005

Durbin's new digs
Fancy office among the perks of being Democratic whip


By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - From his new office, Sen. Dick Durbin has a clear view of the Washington Monument. It's one of the most coveted views in the city.

But it's just one of the perks of his new position as Senate Democratic whip.

Inside the Capitol, Durbin has a spacious, five-room suite with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, historic artwork and five working fireplaces. He also gets a car and a driver.

"It's a pretty nice arrangement," said Durbin, noting the dramatic difference from the offices he first occupied when he entered the U.S. House 22 years ago and then as a freshman senator. Then, low seniority brought the smallest, dreariest workspaces.

With the 109th Congress convening today, Durbin spent Monday, his first day in his new office, unpacking books and personal mementos while workers carried in bookshelves and unrolled carpets.

"Part of this is moving furniture and the other part of this is the bargaining process for things in the Capitol, which turns out to be something I knew nothing about," Durbin said.

Behind his desk in his private office hangs an 1879 oil-on-canvas portrait of Abraham Lincoln that until recently was hanging in the senators' private dining room. On a window sill is the bust of Lincoln that Durbin was given after speaking in Gettysburg, Pa., in 2001, commemorating the 138th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Durbin's staff convinced the Senate curator that his office was more appropriate place for the Lincoln painting because Lincoln sat for artist Freeman Thorp's sketches in 1865 just one floor above Durbin's new office.

Other original paintings on permanent loan from the Smithsonian museums hang in the suite.

Illinois is now evenly represented when it comes to office space in the Capitol. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, has an equally ornate and historic office on the opposite side of the building.

"The only other thing that Speaker Hastert has, which is considered a real plus for offices, is a balcony," Durbin said. "I don't have one of those, but I'm very pleased with this."

Durbin shares the suite with nine staffers, including two new hires. While he receives no salary increase with his new title, he will get a bigger office budget. The amount hasn't been determined.

As the second-ranked Democrat in the Senate, Durbin's new digs will place him closer to the Senate floor, where he'll be spending most of his time. As the party whip, his job is to determine how many votes Democrats have and to help decide Senate Democrats' legislative strategy.

"I'll be focused a lot more on the Senate floor," Durbin said, adding that when Democrats have questions on legislation, he's expected to have the answers.

Durbin said he plans to offer use of his private office in the nearby Senate office building to Sen. Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat from Illinois who will be sworn in for his first term today. Obama currently has been assigned a small, temporary space in a Senate office basement.

Along with the perks of Durbin's new position comes a loss of privacy.

Beginning today, a police officer will be posted outside his office - a security necessity stemming from the 1998 shooting of two U.S. Capitol police officers.

As one of the top four Senate leaders, Durbin will have a car and security detail whenever he travels in the Washington area. He isn't yet sure whether they'll travel with him in Illinois. For Washington, he's requested a smaller sports utility vehicle that is powered by ethanol, an aide said.

Durbin also is required to carry a Blackberry communications device, which he's resisted up until now, so that he can be reached immediately in case of emergency. Should a terrorist attack or other threat occur, Durbin and other leaders would be taken to an undisclosed location for their protection.

The headaches the increased security can cause became apparent as Durbin's staff planned a reception for today. Guests were required to submit their full names and Social Security numbers to gain entrance into the Capitol, which already has numerous levels of security, including metal and explosives detectors.