by Jim Nintzel
Ron Barber, the district director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, walked into the Monday meeting of Democrats of Greater Tucson this week to a big round of applause.
While he was using a cane—Barber is still recovering from nerve damage after taking a bullet in his upper left thigh during the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Giffords—he was able to clamber onto the stage to address the crowd of Democratic activists at their weekly luncheon.
Barber said that Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, is making progress in her recovery in Houston, where she is living with her husband, retiring NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.
“It’s very tiring, but she’s determined,” he said. “And if any of you know her, you know that determination is one of her most important characteristics.”
Barber told the crowd that he remains optimistic that Giffords will be able to return to work, saying that she understands what’s been said to her, even though she struggles to speak.
“For those of you who know about rehabilitation, if your cognition is intact, the rehab becomes much more feasible for success, and that’s certainly the case for speech therapy,” he said.
But Barber stopped short of saying Giffords would be able to seek reelection.
“As far as a decision to run or not run, I think we’ll know more about that later in the year or early next year at the latest,” he said. “The congresswoman will make that decision when the time is right. She’ll make it based on her own sense of her ability to serve well. She will not, I don’t think, do anything unless she can do it extraordinarily well. But we won’t see a decision for awhile.”
Earlier this month, state Sen. Frank Antenori was the first Republican to announce that he would explore whether to seek the congressional seat that Giffords now holds, although Antenori said he would be unlikely to run if Giffords recovered enough to seek reelection.
Antenori also said he would wait until the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission finished drawing the new boundaries for Arizona's congressional districts before making a final decision.
Barber said Giffords has one other big goal: “She wants to be in Tucson. That’s not anything against Houston, but she’s a Tucson woman and she wants to be here. … She misses Tucson terribly. The mountain, the people, the places we all love.”
While Giffords continues her rehabilitation, Barber said her staff in Tucson continues to handle constituent service while the Washington staff is working with other members of Congress to pursue issues that were important to Giffords.
Barber returned to his job as district director in July, but he’s keeping his schedule to just fours a day on doctor’s orders. His left leg remains numb below the knee and too much activity causes his foot to swell and sometimes throb with pain.
He said that staffer Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting, is still missed at the office.
“There is a big hole in the office and in our hearts because of the absence of Gabe,” Barber said. “He was an incredible young man, on so many levels.”
We'll have more on Barber's talk—including the latest on his Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding and his thoughts on Jared Lee Loughner, the mentally ill man facing 49 counts in connection with the Jan. 8 shooting—in this week's print edition.