Rep.-elect McNerney moves in

That click you heard this morning was Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, turning the key in his Washington, D.C., office for the first time.

It’s at 312 Cannon Office Building, a three-room, 1,000-square-foot suite with royal red carpets, fresh paint and a lovely view of the parking lot next to the Capitol South Metro train station. His official plaque was already installed on the wall outside the door: “Jerry McNerney. California. 312.”

It was a morning full of firsts.

Staff picked up the mail for the first time from the floor where it had landed after being pushed through the slot. The daily newspaper bundle arrived for the first time, with the New York Times and the Washington Post. The phone rang as McNerney swung open the door.

McNerney sat at his desk for the first time, although it’s probably the last time its surface will be so bare. The desk faces the small but grand room with its 20-foot ceilings, brass and opaque glass chandelier and floor-to-ceiling blue draperies. (The building is nearly 100 years old and features marble hallways, spectacular crown molding and massive casement windows that actually open, unlike most modern office bulidings.)

“I’ll probably have to have my staff help me keep the desk neat,” he joked.

And his first set of constituents came through the door. Volunteer campaign workers Bill Perkins of Manteca, along with Jerry and Carol Bailey of Stockton, flew in for this week’s inaugural activities. They were his first guests in his new office although he doesn’t have any commemorative congressional items like a keychain or a pen to give them yet.

“It’s so hard to believe that it’s really happening,” said Perkins, who worked on McNerney’s campaigns in 2004 and 2006. “I didn’t want to miss it.”

McNerney has a full schedule on his first day.

After he obtained the keys to his office, he did a round of interviews with television reporters, including a station from his home town of Alburquerque, New Mexico.

He managed to find time to talk with visitors and hold a quick family logistical meeting with his wife, Mary, and grown children, Michael, Windy and Greg.

Then he was off to a meeting of the California congressional delegation and a Democratic Party caucus session. He’ll return for more interviews with journalists (including this reporter) before he and his family head out to begin the round of Washington, D.C., receptions. (One is for Irish-American members of Congress. There’s either enough of them to have a party or, as it is on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish today.)

McNerney is enjoying every minute of the experience.

His face shifts between that of a a wide-eyed freshman to a statesmanlike congressman. He was nattily dressed in a dark gray, pin-striped suit with a crisp, white shirt and a dark brown tie. His trademark fedora hat hung on a coat rack. (He’s under doctor’s orders to wear a hat after undergoing treatment for skin cancer.)

But it was his lively and warm wife, Mary, who nearly stole the show. Open and genuine, she cracked jokes, talked about her marriage of 29 years to Jerry and referred to her “old lady” shoes. (Flat, black and sensible. There’s lots of walking required this week.)

Meanwhile, the staff scrambled to operate in an office that doesn’t have a single file yet. Transition papers haven’t yet arrived from the office of man that McNerney beat, Republican Richard Pombo.

The furniture hasn’t been bolted together, either. The reception counter moves when you lean on it. A falling bookshelf almost nailed one of the technical folks huddled over the computers working to set everyone up with the lifeblood of modern communication: e-mail.

I’ve had a few folks ask how McNerney was assigned his office.

It was done through the use of a lottery system in mid-December. The 49 members of the incoming freshman class drew numbers — McNerney drew a “10” — and then he had two hours to check out the list of available offices and come back with his choice.

How do you choose? Some offices are bigger than others while others have nicer views or better access. If McNerney is re-elected in 2008, he will have the opportunity to move. The longer you stay in Congress, the better your office!

Lisa Vorderbrueggen