House members spent about an hour Wednesday honoring Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was slain in the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson. He was the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty in the 222-year history of the Congress.
“Congressional offices wouldn’t be able to function without people like Gabe, and yet they rarely receive the credit they deserve,” said Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, on the House floor Wednesday. “Gabe’s life was cut too short, but he will be forever honored.”
He will be honored by having his name attached to a popular meeting room, HVC 215, in the new Capitol Visitors Center. A resolution naming the room in his honor is expected to win easy passage, as more than 400 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors. The measure does not need Senate or presidential approval.
“Naming something as simple as the room will never be enough, for his sacrifice, but it is the right thing to do,” said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, in support of the resolution.
In an hour of sometimes emotional statements Wednesday, representatives honored Zimmerman, and their own staffers, and the contributions they make to democracy.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., began to choke up on the floor as she thanked the many lawmakers who signed on to the resolution and asked them to step up their efforts in working with the public.
“This is a very challenging and difficult time for our nation … it’s my hope that as hard as it is, and has hard as it has become for us to engage in civil discourse that we really all redouble our efforts,” she said.
“In doing so, we will honor Gabe’s memory, honor the service of our colleague and friend Gabrielle Giffords and know that Gabriel Zimmerman did not die in vain,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Zimmerman was one of the first staffers hired by Giffords, a Tucson Democrat. Zimmerman, 30 and engaged to be married, was Giffords’ community outreach director, in charge of planning “Congress on Your Corner” events designed to help Giffords connect with her constituents.
It was at one such event on Jan. 8 in Tucson when a gunman opened fire, killing Zimmerman and five other people and wounding 13, including Giffords, who suffered a gunshot to the head.
Giffords, who is still recovering from her injuries, was not present for debate on the Zimmerman resolution but her office announced Wednesday that there will be a formal dedication of the “Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room” and unveiling of the plaque in early 2012.
In a statement released through Giffords’ office, Zimmerman’s brother Ben said the Zimmermans “deeply appreciate this show of support by the House of Representatives. This is a wonderful way to memorialize my brother, Gabe.”
Seventeen members spoke, including all of Arizona’s House members, and many others offered written statements of support for the resolution, and gratitude for Zimmerman’s sacrifice.
“This is a symbol not only for Gabe but it’s a symbol for all the people that every day work in these offices, work in the congressional offices, and serve the public on a daily basis,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.
Wasserman Schultz made a point of thanking Schweikert and fellow Arizona Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Jeff Flake for working “passionately” to gain as many co-sponsors as possible.
“The loss of Gabe Zimmerman affected this body deeply, we all know staffers like Gabe. Tireless public servants who work long hours and weekends for modest pay,” Quayle said.
Wasserman Schultz remembered Zimmerman as a “profoundly nice person” who was nicknamed Prince Charming by coworkers because of his tendency to go above and beyond what was expected.
“Gabe would often put in extra hours and was known to pay out of his own pockets for constituents’ bus fare, whatever he could do,” Wasserman Schultz said on the house floor.
Zimmerman was a native of Tucson. He earned a bachelors degree in sociology from the University of California Santa Cruz and a masters in social work from Arizona State University.
“This is a small token of what we can exemplify in what is so good about Gabe Zimmerman and what our staff means to us,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff.