PHOENIX — A top aide to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the leg and face in the Tucson rampage that also left the congresswoman severely wounded announced Thursday that he will seek to replace her in a special election.
Democrat Ron Barber declared he would run to serve the last six months of Giffords' term, and his announcement comes after she stepped down last month to focus on her recovery. He told The Associated Press that Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, asked him to run.
Barber was Giffords' district director and worked with her since 2006. The special election to fill Giffords' 8th Congressional District seat in Arizona is set for the spring.
He said he has not decided whether to run for a full term in the regular election set for November in the redrawn 2nd District.
"I'm not a politician, never run for office before, so I'm taking this one step at a time," Barber said. "And the first step is to get petitions to get me on the ballot for the primary in April and then for the general in June. I'll make a decision about the CD 2 race a little later on, but right now I'm really focused on really getting the immediate work done to get myself going for this campaign."
He said he made the decision to run after conversations with Giffords and Kelly, and his family.
"And I finally decided obviously I want to do it and I can do it, my energy is good, my desire to serve the people is strong and I was able to say yes for the congresswoman and to Mark and I will run and do have their support."
Barber and Giffords were among 13 people wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011, attack outside a Tucson supermarket. Six others were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.
Just a month later, he announced he was setting up a nonprofit to fund school programs and community events. The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding supports survivors of the shooting and first responders and works to reduce bullying in schools and increase awareness of mental health symptoms.
The suspect in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the shooting. Mental health experts have determined Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him fit to stand trial. He has pleaded not guilty.
Barber, 66, is a former administrator in the Arizona Department of Economic Security's division of developmental disabilities. He retired in 2006 to work for Giffords.
The special election primary is set for April 17 and the general on June 12.
One other Democrat, state Rep. Matt Heinz, has announced his run for the seat. He has said he will not run in the special election and only run for a full term if Giffords aide Ron Barber runs to be in the interim replacement.
Five Republicans are now in the race, including 2010 Giffords challenger Jesse Kelly, Tucson broadcaster Dave Sitton and state Sen. Frank Antenori. Also running in the special primary are former Air Force pilot Martha McCally and John Lervold, a civilian instructor at the Army's Fort Huachuca.
Kelly posted on his wife's Facebook page that they are supporting Barber and urged donations to his campaign.