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Byrd celebrates opening of new office in Martinsburg

May 05, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Saturday he is committed to finding additional money for needed Eastern Panhandle highway projects.

He said the war in Iraq is at least partially to blame for lack of funding.

"I'm doing everything I can ... money's scarce," said Byrd, D-W.Va., after shaking hands with hundreds of people for nearly three hours at an open house celebrating his new Eastern Panhandle office in Martinsburg.

"I was against getting in that war," Byrd said.

Though supportive of American troops, Byrd said he and others in Washington now are "doing everything we possibly can to get them out."

Insisting on shaking the hand of everyone who waited in a long line to meet him, the 89-year-old Byrd abandoned a formal program arranged for the open house in a first-floor courtroom in the U.S. Courthouse at 217 W. King St. Byrd's new office is in a second-floor suite.

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"This office is here to serve you," Byrd told those who stayed for the duration of the open house. "We're going to give you the best service that we know how."

After shaking the last few hands and smiling for photographs, Byrd joined in song with members of the bluegrass band Lonesome Highway. He was serenaded with "Dark Hollow," and then joined in singing "More Pretty Girls Than One" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

The crowd clapped along at times as Byrd, dressed in a black suit, tapped his black shoes and clapped at times himself, urging the band on. "Give them a good hand, will ya," he said after the band had finished.

A man in the audience yelled, "We love you, Senator Byrd ..."

The outburst prompted hearty applause and cheers for Byrd, who was flanked by security throughout.

Spokesman Tom Gavin said Byrd would pay for the open house reception, but the expense for operating the office would be paid with money allotted each senator.

Staffing the office will be West Virginia natives ? administrative office manager Cookie Davis; Keith McIntosh, who will handle major projects; and administrative assistant Christine Hewett. The office, Suite 238, will be staffed weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"His name can open a door to help ..." Davis said.

"A lot of people take the Eastern Panhandle for granted," Gavin said. "Byrd doesn't."

Since 2005, Byrd has owned a home just outside Shepherdstown, W.Va., and before that owned a home in The Woods subdivision in western Berkeley County, Gavin said. He was raised in Sophia in Raleigh County.

Last June, Byrd became the nation's longest serving senator, and in November was elected to an unprecedented ninth consecutive term. As president pro tem of the Senate, he is third in line to succeed the president.

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