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Their Offices Are Their Shrines

February 17, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Quite apart from whether their homes are their castles, this much is obvious about Washington politicians: Their offices are their shrines.

Visitors who cross the threshold of a congressional office step into a place of history, whimsy or flotsam. Politicians lead memento-filled lives. Their paperweights, certificates of appreciation, photos with presidents and county-airport ball caps say something about who they are or how they would like to be seen.

A purloined picture of John F. Kennedy hangs on the far wall of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s elegantly plain outer office. Moynihan made off with it from the White House in the chaotic hours after JFK died.

``I put it under my arm,″ the New York Democrat, who was a Kennedy administration official back in 1963, said in an interview. ``I just took it.″

Few trophy walls are as confessional. A note with the photo describes how it was left behind in a frenzied packing away of JFK keepsakes and how, around midnight, ``I took it, went round to the center door of the Oval Office, saluted and left.″

Surely few offices are as understated either.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Resources Committee, displays a bear pelt in his Capitol Hill office, a floor-to-ceiling kodiak complete with head and serious claws.

Pennsylvania Rep. Bud Shuster bagged his own road. The Bud Shuster Highway, says the sign hanging behind the receptionist. It shares space with photos of overpasses and citations from engineers and town leaders grateful for all that federal highway money brought home by the GOP chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Some items speak to quirky passions.

For Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski, another Alaskan with a bold workplace, that passion is trains.

At home, he and his wife live in a converted Pullman rail car and answer a phone that goes ``chucka, chucka, chucka,″ said spokeswoman Cynthia Bookout. At the office, he’s got a plastic train on a little track on his desk. When he’s ready to leave on a trip, he sets it in motion and the chugging and whistles mean he’s ready to go.

Some walls speak to the sweep of history.

Except for the homey touches, such as the Jack Russell terrier, Blarney, pressing a wet nose across the carpet, the office of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., could be a museum. Its walls are a treasure-lined testament to the joys, pain and triumphs of that most famous family.

Visitors from around the world pour in. They can see a recently discovered print showing the ``Famine Ship″ that brought Kennedy’s great grandparents from Ireland in 1849.

In the senator’s personal office hang John’s dog tags from his Navy days and much else.

Notes are displayed from the late Rose Kennedy correcting Teddy’s grammar. ``If I were president, not if I was president,″ she wrote in 1975.

When Moynihan snagged his JFK memento, he had been preparing to meet the president to discuss rebuilding Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, he found himself at the White House with other officials, trying to come to grips with the assassination in Dallas.

``The rug, I think, was being taken up,″ he said. ``His armchair rocker was on top of this pile of desks. The one thing left was this photograph.″

Newer members of Congress grasp history wherever they can get it.

Rep. Bob Barr got his from a Georgia restaurant chain _ a donated human-size Statue of Liberty in his small reception area. It came up from Georgia in a van, along with someone’s transmission.

``She never gets tired,″ said Dan Levinson, Barr’s chief of staff. ``She never complains.″

When it comes to Republican Barr’s conservative views, the writing’s on the wall. He’s got awards from gun-rights groups. Plus, a shelf with books such as ``The Tax Racket: Government Extortion from A to Z″ and ``The Lawyers Will Eat Your Lunch.″

Murkowski has a totem pole in the hall outside his office, a mural of a long-gone Alaskan village, photos of the Vietnamese children he brought to the United States to join their parents and a mounted dahl sheep’s head.

``The Natural Resources Committee chairman did not shoot the animals,″ spokeswoman Bookout said, although Murkowski does bag the occasional duck.

But even this artful office makes a political point: A large photo shows a section of the trans-Alaska pipeline and a young caribou in repose by it. Those who wonder whether nature and oil can coexist need only look at the wall.


Glimpses into a few Washington congressional offices:

_Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.: A glass case containing volumes of federal law also holds a pair of star-spangled tennis shoes. Once told by a lobbyist she wouldn’t get a law passed as a state legislator because she was a ``mom in tennis shoes,″ Murray became known by that phrase in her 1992 Senate race.

_Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. : The sign on his door says Welkom. Born in the Netherlands, raised in Holland, Mich., the congressman also has wooden shoes in his office as further touches of the old country. He also displays a collection of model bicycles. Hoekstra bikes the 150 miles across his district every year.

_Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska: Although the huge bear skin in his reception area commands most of the attention, Young lines another wall with more than 70 ball caps given as gifts at different events.

_Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa.: His reception area points to his prowess in getting highway projects passed but he also displays the seat belt that he says saved his life in a 1982 accident. Among his awards: honorary life membership in ``The Road Gang.″

_Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.: His desk is flanked by the U.S. flag carried at brother John’s funeral and the presidential flag used by JFK in the White House. An Irish road sign, saying Dunganstown, juts out. Family keepsakes are everywhere. Also, autographed boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali; a large 1995 photo of children from the John F. Kennedy Memorial Preparatory School in Sierra Leone _ among countless schools named after John or Robert Kennedy around the world; a display of many of the 54 bill titles he helped write into law in 1989 and 1990; pictures of lighthouses he helped save.

_Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich.: A case full of exotic elephant figurines distinguishes his personal office. A similar collection has been amassed by the well-traveled Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., a former CIA analyst. Democrats are not as likely to display their party symbol, perhaps because elegant carved donkeys are harder to find.

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