After Arizona shooting, no security revamp for city, state officials

Patrick Svitek

City and state politicians said this week they have no immediate plans to revamp personal security at public events in the wake of an Arizona shooting spree that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six others.

Giffords was reportedly conducting a “Congress on Your Corner” community forum in a northwest suburb of Tucson Saturday morning when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on the congresswoman’s audience and eventually shot her in the head. The assassination attempt triggered a national discussion about the open availability of politicians, with Sen. Richard Durbin acknowledging “there is a price to public life” on Sunday’s “State of the Union” roundtable on CNN.

“We all find it shocking, appalling and sad, frankly,” said Matt Trewartha, chief of staff to State Rep. Robyn Gabel. “It’s unfortunate and hopefully not a sign of where the direction of the country is headed.”

But Gabel’s staff “has no intentions of increasing security” for the Evanston congresswoman or her aides as a result of the Tucson rampage, he said. Because Gabel shares workspace with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, whose Chicago office windows were shattered by vandals in November, on-site surveillance has been “slightly elevated.”

Schakowsky, who has represented Illinois’ 9th Congressional District since 1999, issued a news release Saturday describing Giffords as a “thoughtful voice in the Congress … dedicated to the people of her district to whom she is always accessible.” Schakowsky attended a House security briefing Wednesday morning aimed at informing legislators about how to safely approach such constituent relations, said Sarah Baldauf, her communications director.

“It’s not clear what’s going to be offered yet,” Baldauf said Tuesday.

She declined to comment on whether Schakowsky’s staff is revising its security strategy after the joint-caucus conference but confirmed Schakowsky’s protection detail will continue unchanged at public appearances.

The same plan remains in effect for Sen. Mark Kirk, who will not be tweaking security arrangements ahead of at least five town hall meetings scheduled across the state this winter, said Lance Trover, Kirk’s chief of staff. Trover also stated that event organizers always alert local authorities of upcoming functions.

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg offered a similar approach Tuesday, explaining in an e-mail statement that it is not his office’s policy to discuss specific security procedures but they “do closely coordinate with law enforcement officials and are ever aware of possible security changes that circumstances require.”

Christina Mulka, Durbin’s press secretary, said she cannot disclose specific details of the senator’s protection services. However, Durbin addressed a similar issue in his “State of the Nation” appearance, asserting that “any member of Congress who even has the slightest suspicion that they’re in danger should be able to turn to our own law enforcement within the Capitol.”

“We have no plans to change his schedule, though,” Mulka said.

The tense political climate struck closer to home Sunday when Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th) received a threatening e-mail reportedly asserting that he is “next.” The threat, which is now being investigated by U.S. Capitol Police, will not affect the Chicago congressman’s daily routine, said Ira Cohen, Davis’ press secretary.

“He’s not canceling any events,” he said. “He will be as accessible to the public as he’s ever been – and that’s very accessible.”

Nonetheless, the anonymous threat combined with the weekend shooting resulted in heightened security at the inauguration of Gov. Pat Quinn Monday.

“We did increase police presence at the inauguration – both in uniform and plainclothes,” said Sergeant Juan Valenzuela, a spokesman for the Illinois State Police Public Information Office.

Giffords is in stable condition and is becoming more responsive as the side effects of heavy medication subside, University of Arizona trauma chief Dr. Peter Rhee told CBS News Wednesday afternoon. Loughner is in federal custody and facing two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress.

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