At the Office
Family Photos, Power Walls, Art and other Objects
August 8, 2002-Eric M. Appleman

Courtesy of 
Today Media, Inc.
In Spring 2002, a visitor to Sen. Joe Biden's (D-DE) office in Washington, DC could not help but notice the framed December 1999 issue of Delaware Today prominently placed right by the door of the reception area.  The question on the cover was, "Will Sen. Joe Biden run for president again?"  Biden, who ran for president in 1988 and has been mentioned as a possible 2004 candidate, had not at the time been doing any of the politicking normally associated with a presidential run.  However, any visitor walking out the door could hardly miss this magazine cover.  Was it designed to send a message to visitors or was Biden just having a little fun?  Are there similarly interesting objects in the offices of other P2004 prospects?

How a person arranges and decorates his or her office--the paintings or art on the walls, the photographs on the desk, the objects and geegaws by the window--can tell us quite a bit about the person.  If a piece of art or object dominates the room or is prominently placed, that object likely either has significant meaning to the person or is positioned there to send some kind of a message to visitors.  For example, there may be a big photo or image that one sees right when one walks in the door.  The place right by the front door is also one of the more significant locations in the office, because that is what visitors see as they are leaving; photos or objects there may leave a lingering impression.

It is important to recognize that prominent elected officials generally have several offices.  In Spring 2002, for example, Al Gore was a man of many offices, including his Leadership '02 office, the office in Alexandria where he is writing a book, an office at MetWest, and an office in Tennessee.  Senators and congressmen of course have their office suites on Capitol Hill; some have hideaway offices as well.  They may have campaign offices where they can go to make political calls.  They also have offices back in their home states and districts where they may hang their hats from time to time.

The decor of the office where an official actually works would give much information about his or her tastes, but one can also learn something just by observing the reception area.  For some of the Senators who have been in Washington for a long time, the walls of this room may be covered with seemingly hundreds photographs and artifacts going back decades.  A stereotypical power wall features photos of the official with various other dignitaries and celebrities.  In the personal office one is more likely to find the family photos.

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Former Vice President Al Gore (Leadership '02 office in Clarendon, VA): The large photograph "A Picture of the Earth from Space" that graced Gore's vice presidential office is situated in the front reception area.  The image is about 6' x 9' and is in three panels.  The image was taken on December 11, 1972 on the Apollo 17 mission.  Gore received it in the late 1980's and has had it since, in his Senate office and then in his White House office.  It was also used on the cover of his book Earth in the Balance.

Sen. Tom Daschle: The reception area in Sen. Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building is simple and uncluttered with just three eye-catching objects.  First is an artist proof of a farm scene with snow by Jon Crane (1989), a watercolorist who lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Titled "Winter in the Heartland," this is a very large, horizontal image.  On the wall by the door is a framed, folded flag flown over the Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001.  Facing the door, behind the receptionist's desk is a black and white photo titled "Capitol at Dusk."

Gov. Howard Dean: Gov. Dean's personal office has a beautiful view of the State House building.  On the shelves behind his desk is a clutter of photos, objects and books.  The objects include various that have been given to him, such as an antique Dr. Dean sign, as well as things he has picked up on various trade missions.  In the photo below, Dean holds a loon he won in the New England Governors' Ski Challenge, a friendly but spirited rivalry that started in 1992 out of a disagreement over advertising claims by Vermont ski areas.
The public reception area features rotating exhibits of local artists' works.

Sen. John Edwards: Reception Area--The most eye-catching object in the reception area of Sen. Edwards' office is a beautiful quilt with North Carolina themed panels.  By the door, as one leaves the office, is a framed copy of the Terry Sanford Commemoration Act of 1999.  A spokesperson explained, "He counts Terry Sanford as one of his heroes.  He met the then-governor when John was a young boy visiting the battleship USS North Carolina, which is a tourist destination at Wilmington, N.C.  He also met with Sanford after John decided to run for Senate."
Office--The senator has pictures of his four children on his desk.  On the shelves behind his desk are additional family pictures, including one of the senator and his late son Wade on top of Mount Kilamanjaro and a young Elizabeth Edwards with her family taken while her father, a Navy aviator, was stationed in Japan.

There are several oil paintings in his office by North Carolina artists.  One is a painting of a cotton field and farm buildings, another is a picture of kids swimming, and the third is a forest scene.

There also are two pictures of Michael Jordan making clutch baskets in key games in this North Carolina player's illustrious career.

Rep. Richard Gephardt: Rep. Gephardt's office in the Capitol, where he also holds his regular press conferences, has several works of art on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum.  A total of nine pieces have been on loan to Gephardt since Fall 1989; Mrs. Gephardt worked with SLAM director James Burke to select them.  Dominating the room is "The Bridge," a large (38 x 48 in.) 1903 oil painting by Frederick Oakes Sylvester (1869-1915) showing a bridge over a river with buildings in the distance.  "Laclede Landing at Present Site of St. Louis," a frontier scene by O.E. Berninghaus (1874-1952), who was born in St. Louis, is also prominently placed in the room.  Other distinctive items include an "I'm from Missouri" pen set on the desk, and a large, wooden model ship by the window.  Outside in the hallway is a framed Time magazine cover from the early 1960s showing Speaker Rayburn.

Sen. John Kerry: The wall to the right of the door in the reception area of Sen. Kerry's office is devoted to his Vietnam experiences.  Immediately by the door is large color photograph taken in 1969 on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam showing Kerry and crewmates Tom Belodeau, Michael Medeiros, Del Sandusky, and Gene Thorson (not in the photo is David Alston).  A large model of the Kerry commanded, is situated by this wall in a glass case--according to the label it is a U.S. Navy Swift Boat MKI, PCF-94.  [PCF stands for "Patrol Craft Fast"].
On the other side of the doorway is a wall with various award plaques; for example, a November 1989 award from the League of Conservation Voters notes Kerry's 100% environmental voting record in the 100th Congress.  In the corner there is also a rock from Everest Base Camp.  The wall running the length of the reception area is covered with dozens of photos.

Sen. Joe Lieberman: As one enters the door to the reception area of Sen. Lieberman's office one sees a series of four colorful prints showing Connecticut in the different seasons.  As one walks out the door, on the wall to the right, are about 20 photos.  Closest to the door are a photo of the 1995 women's basketball national championship team, and a photo of Sens. Lieberman and Santorum (R-PA) with President George W. Bush.  None of the images is particularly dominant, although a 1999 cover of ESPN magazine with Lieberman and Muhammad Ali does catch the eye.  On the wall to the right are several more images including a photo of Lieberman on "This Week" and a drawing of Lieberman signed "Nowak 87."  A television set sits in one corner of the reception area.

Rev. Al Sharpton: In the main lobby reception area of Sharpton's "House of Justice" headquarters on Madison Avenue, there are numerous photos of Reverend Sharpton with prominent of him with Castro, Jesse Jackson, in Sudan, and...artwork of Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Adam Clayton Powell and Bill Clinton.