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The Nation

February 26, 2011

Despite Giffords' absence, office busier than ever

TUSCON, Ariz. — With Rep. Gabrielle Giffords recuperating in a Houston hospital, not voting in Congress or making appearances, you might think that her Tucson office would be quieter these days. You would be wrong.

The office has been bustling with all sorts of activity in the weeks since she was shot as staffers proudly carry out the type of constituent work that has been a hallmark of Giffords' time in Congress, whether it's explaining Social Security benefits to senior citizens or helping out voters facing foreclosure. Her staff is also responding to the thousands of notes of condolences that have poured in from all over the country since the shooting.

Immediately after the Jan. 8 shootings, communications director C.J. Karamargin wondered whether they should open the office the following Monday. He polled the staff, and the vote was unanimous.

"We're here to do a job," he says. "We're here to serve people, and no act of violence would deter us. People look at this office as not just as sort of a small little outpost of the federal government, but as an outpost of our representative form of government. ... It's like, we HAVE to do this."

Despite being shot twice, Pam Simon couldn't stay away from the office any longer. She returned to work this week to find her desk festooned with balloons and streamers. A box containing a new computer awaited her.

Then she poked her head into Gabe Zimmerman's office. His personal belongings were gone, and other people were there, busily taking calls and making notes.

Zimmerman was one of the six who didn't survive the shooting spree that wounded Simon, Giffords and 11 others.

"It seems like there are vacant places in the office that all those that came back immediately have adjusted to," the 63-year-old outreach coordinator says, sitting in a lonely conference room after meeting with a constituent. "Everybody's working very hard, but there's a difference in the spirit. Because we're missing people."

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