The start of a new Congress in January brings answers to many questions. Which party controls the House and Senate? Who is Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader? Who scored key committee chairmanships and who got dissed.
But the new Congress could provide an answer to one of the most-compelling questions to consume Capitol Hill in years: who will be the next occupant of the hideaway office that once belonged to the late-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)?
Kennedy passed away in August, 2009, leaving behind one of the most-coveted pieces of real estate on the Congressional campus.
Hideaway offices are the elite purview of the Senate. The most-commodious hideaways typically go to senior senators and often feature impressive views of the National Mall or the Supreme Court.
Kennedy's sanctum was located off a narrow, obscure corridor on the third floor of the Capitol near the Senate Radio-TV Gallery. It featured arcade ceilings and a grand view of the Washington Monument.
Senate sources indicated that the Kennedy hideaway would remain vacant until the start of the new Congress in January. That's when the Senate will conduct a lottery to determine who gets the spacious suite.
In the weeks after Kennedy died, the family removed all of the senator's pictures, keepsakes, mementos and even an Irish Street sign printed in Gaelic. Months later Capitol workers ripped up the carpet, exposing a worn, wooden floor and stripped the room down to a shell. For months, the door to the hideaway often stood wide open. A random passerby could wander into the room and walk around. But few probably knew where to locate the room. Or could even tell what they were looking at.
Some months ago, someone changed the locks to the room.
But recently, there's been a lot activity in the hideaway, perhaps a sign that the Senate is preparing for a new tenant to move into Kennedy's hideaway.
Some dollops of white paint now cover the green walls. Cardboard sheets and plastic strips now cover the exposed wooden floors. A circular saw on a bench sits in the middle of the room. A bottle of Windex rests on the fireplace mantle. Double transoms above the doorway are flung open, allowing tall visitors to peer into the hideaway.
The most-senior senators eligible for a hideaway upgrade are Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who's now the Senate's President Pro Tempore, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Max Baucus (D-MT), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). It's said that some senators might forgo an opportunity for a hideaway upgrade since they're already ensconced in their current hideaways and don't want to move. So, it's possible a more junior senator could wind up with swank digs.
Much of the country may be focused on the midterm elections. But a few select Capitol Hill insiders are tracking the Kennedy hideaway sweepstakes with nearly as much fervor.