Dear President and Mrs. Obama, Welcome to Tucson. We wish you were here under much happier circumstances, but we are glad you came just the same. People are hurting and we need all the good wishes and support we can get.
We're afraid, however, that the depraved act of one person who has caused so much pain and destruction will give you, and the rest of the world, the wrong idea about our town.
And yes, we mean our town. Tucson is an area of about 1 million people, but to many it's still a town at heart. Sometimes we bemoan the provinciality of Tucson, the reluctance to realize we're now a booming metropolis with all the attendant problems.
But today we are glad we live in the town called Tucson.
Much has been made of the atmosphere in Arizona. Our sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, made some comments about the tenor of the political atmosphere that, frankly, many in our community agree with - we've been worried about the damage negative campaigns have done and we're tired of nastiness.
Many Tucsonans don't agree with Dupnik, and that's their right as Americans. We can see their point of view, even if we disagree.
But we hope you will not let the controversy over what Dupnik said distract you from what we should all be focusing on - the people who were murdered or wounded. Those who have lost loved ones and friends. Southern Arizonans who have lost, we pray just temporarily, an effective and dedicated public servant in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
We hope you are able to see that our town can be great.
We know how to throw a heck of a community party and we're good at enjoying our beautiful part of the country. Our university and arts community inspire pride. We relish fantastic food and have more than our share of family-run Mexican restaurants (you can ask Bill Clinton - he knows).
We are trying to concentrate on the good things about Tucson because the pain is still so raw. No one wants to be in the world spotlight because something so horrible has happened. Our town is more than this tragedy, though it will always be part of us. We want the world to know the more complete picture of Tucson.
The Tucson we know is the Tucson described so eloquently by Bill Hileman, whose wife, Susan, was shot three times in the rampage. She had taken 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green to see Giffords at the meet-and-greet on Saturday because the child was interested in politics. "Going to Gabby's event (together) made all kinds of sense; it was a positive female role model for Christina," he said.
(You'll notice that Hileman called Giffords "Gabby" - Tucson is that kind of town, and Gabby is that kind of congresswoman.)
Even in his grief, Mr. Hileman expressed beautifully what we're trying to say. At a press conference Tuesday morning, he spoke about going to the University Medical Center and learning the horror of what had happened. He spoke with a minister who wasn't on the hospital staff, hadn't been called in by anyone.
This minister had heard of the tragedy and came to help.
"That's my Tucson," Hileman said.
That's our Tucson.
Arizona Daily Star