Public congressional events resume after shooting

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By Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Less than a week after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot at her public "Congress on Your Corner" event, similar gatherings across the country resumed in full force Friday, though under greater police presence.

At Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley's office in Las Vegas, throngs of constituents turned out to chat with the congresswoman. So many people showed up, the 48, two-minute slots were quickly filled, and staff members had to turn people away and take names for future appointments.

Berkley's meeting was one of the first such happenings since six people were killed and Giffords was critically injured in the Arizona massacre outside a grocery store. Elsewhere, gatherings were planned in Minnesota, and in Georgia on Saturday.

On Thursday night, Rep. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut held a "Congress on Your Corner" at Fitzgerald's Foods, an independent supermarket in Simsbury in the north-central part of the state. Turnout was brisk, despite the temperatures dipping down to 18 degrees.

Murphy said he didn't make any changes considering the Tucson tragedy, though police did send an officer who stood by inconspicuously as shoppers met with the congressman.

"I don't think it will have a chilling effect on political dialogue," said Murphy, who had an office next to Giffords in Washington and considered her a good friend. "In fact, I think it may do the exact opposite. Last night, there were a lot of people who stopped by simply to tell us how happy they were that we were getting back out and doing these type of listening events."

Giffords began holding "Congress on Your Corner" events in 2006, when she and other Democratic freshman were encouraged by their national leadership to meet directly with their constituents.

Under the format used by Giffords, people lined up and spoke one at a time directly with the congresswoman and her staff about whatever they wanted, such as requests for assistance with federal agencies or concerns about issues. It was at her event last Saturday when suspected gunman, Jared Loughner, asked an aide where the congresswoman was, and was told to get in line, witnesses and authorities have said. He left, but returned and started firing at Giffords and others, authorities said.

Berkley called the open house at her Las Vegas congressional office a stand against the violence and has said she was holding it in honor of Giffords.

Unlike Giffords, who narrowly won a conservative-leaning district in November, Berkley was easily re-elected to a seventh term. In an interview before meeting with her constituents, she reflected on the heated rhetoric, divisive politics and whether the current political climate contributed to the shooting.

"The reality is, we haven't been behaving very well as leaders of our nation," Berkley told The Associated Press. "I hope this is a turning point."

Elsewhere, Rep. Tim Walz in Minnesota planned an event, and a day later Rep. John Barrow in Georgia was to hold a gathering. Both are Democrats.

Police have been asked to monitor the meetings to ward off copycats. At Berkley's office, security was unusually visible, with five Las Vegas police cruisers in the parking lot.

Bo Tian, 48, a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, brought his 9-year-old daughter, Ming Hui Tian, to the Berkley event.

A Chinese immigrant, Tian said it would be his first time meeting a lawmaker and noted that his daughter was the same age as Christina Taylor Green, one of the six slain in the Tucson attack.

"It is a chance to say 'Thank you' to the congresswoman," Tian said.