All eyes were on the McKale Center Jan. 12 when President Barack Obama urged Americans “to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” The President made his remarks during Together We Thrive, the public tribute held in the aftermath of the mass shootings Jan. 8 in Northwest Tucson.
Enthusiastic crowds of 13,000 people in McKale, in the heart of the University of Arizona campus, and another 13,000 in the football stadium listened as the president spoke about the attempted murder of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left six people dead, including a 9-year-old girl.
Elected and appointed leaders from across the country as well as numerous local officials turned out to hear the President’s words.
“It was the highlight of my tenure on council, by far,” said Marana Town Councilman Russell Clanagan.
Clanagan said he attended in part to show support for Giffords, who has advocated on behalf of the town during her time in office.
In particular, Giffords helped Marana when Federal Emergency Management Agency remapping efforts placed large swaths of the town in newly designated flood zones. That reclassification would have had a devastating affect on the town’s ability to grow, Clanagan noted.
Giffords intervened with FEMA and got much of the areas re-designated.
“She’s done so much for Marana,” Clanagan said.
The councilman said he, like thousands of others, was moved by the words the President spoke about Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who died in Jan. 8 shooting.
Clanagan spoke about Green’s burgeoning appreciation for American government, which was sparked by her recent election to her school’s student council.
“She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful,” Obama said. “I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.”
Clanagan said the words hit home for him as a public servant.
“We as elected officials have an obligation to be the kind of government that our children want us to be,” Clanagan said.
Another local elected official who attended the speech also was struck by the president’s comments.
“It hit me the way it hit everyone else,” said Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath. “America is what it is because of our democracy, in spite of these tragedies.”
The mayor also said he was heartened that the President’s speech strayed away from charged political or partisan rhetoric.
“I felt it was the right tone,” he said
Hiremath, however, remains concerned that the tragedy would leave Tucson with an image problem.
“My biggest fear is that there are towns that have tragedies and then become defined by them,” Hiremath said. “That’s not what Tucson needs.”