The tragic shooting at an Arizona "Congress on Your Corner" event on Saturday should not stop the tradition of free and open dialogue between elected officials and the public, legislators from the region said.
"What separates us from other cultures and other governments is our approachability," said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
Tonko said in a telephone interview that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat critically wounded in the shooting, has valued that type of interaction.
"The irony here is that she was the consummate representative by connecting with people. She was bringing it to their doorstep and was brought down in that effort," said Tonko, who serves with Giffords on the House Science and Technology Committee.
Six people were killed and 14 people were injured in the shooting on Saturday at a forum at a supermarket.
Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old shooter, was charged Sunday with murder and attempted murder of federal employees, the Associated Press reported.
Giffords, a third-term congresswoman, was still in critical condition at a hospital in Tucson on Sunday evening.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who serves with Giffords on the House Armed Forces Committee, called the shooting "almost ad hoc violence."
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and his wife offered their thoughts and prayers to the congresswoman and her family.
Gibson was attending a retreat for new representatives to learn about House rules over the weekend and was not available to comment directly, said spokeswoman Stephanie Valle.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the shooting "is a tragedy beyond words."
Other elected officials said that threats of violence on public officials are not unheard of, and are always taken seriously.
Owens said he once received a threatening telephone call some time ago, but it was not considered a material threat.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the CBS news program "Face the Nation" on Sunday that federal law enforcement officials investigate "a handful of threats" against members of Congress each month, usually by mentally unstable people, "not people with political motivation."
Tonko said the FBI, Capitol Police and the House Sergeant of Arms are working jointly to analyze the situation.
"They are, as we speak, working as a team to determine a lot about this incident and perhaps recommendations will rise from that," Tonko said.
Owens said he is waiting to hear those recommendations.
"First of all what I’d like to have them do is complete the investigation ... and make sure it is what it appears, which is, I think, an irrational individual who turned to violence inappropriately," he said. "I think that one of the things that we have to be careful of — both politicians and the media — is that we make sure that our commentary is not incendiary, that when we talk about our opponents, we talk about them respectfully, and we talk about what the issues are."
State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, said the incident shows the need for more respect in politics.
"You know the rhetoric with what people are able to say and do on blogs, you know the Rush Limbaughs of the world, it’s a lot of perpetuating the difficulties we’re having with government, whether it’s at the state level or the federal level," she said.
Sayward said she has never been threatened directly, but once someone posted flyers on her office door in the hallway outside her office in Albany.
The flyers featured a circle around her picture with a slash over it, similar to "no smoking" signs, she said.
"It makes you really uncomfortable," she said.
Ben Potiker, a local tea party leader, said that political rhetoric has always been heated, but is more visible now because of the Internet and plethora of media outlets.
"It’s just now we live in a digital age where blogs are so prevalent that it just seems like it’s more — or maybe it’s just more visible," said Potiker, president of the Upstate Conservative Coalition, based in Saratoga Springs.
Potiker said criticism of Sarah Palin for an ad that featured a map with Giffords and other political candidates in a rifle’s crosshairs is unfair.
"That’s just verbiage. It’s really not meant to incite anything," he said.
State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, said people need to "tone down the angry, vindicative talk" about politics.
"You know, we have free speech, but I think that people have to start thinking about some of the things they are saying and how it’s affecting some of the people who are listening, when they have no idea who is listening," she said.
Little said politicians should continue going out to meet with the public, but perhaps at the congressional level there should better security.
State Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, said there still needs to be interaction between legislators and the public.
"I think the one thing we all know is there are troubled people in the world," he said. "And I guess maybe I subscribe to the philosophy that if you suddenly barricade yourself in, then that attitude and that mind-set wins."