Many Americans know Rudy Giuliani only from his performance in the smoke and ashes after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York - a steely image that has propelled him atop the polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Now, some groups at the center of the Sept. 11 aftermath are laying aggressive plans to tarnish that image and undermine the central pillar of his candidacy.
Officials from a national firefighters union, along with relatives of some Sept. 11 victims, say they will attack decisions Giuliani made as New York mayor before and after the terror strikes.
Among other complaints, they say that Giuliani failed to support modernized radios that might have spared the lives of more firefighters at the World Trade Center and that he located the city's main emergency command center in the complex even though it had been targeted by terrorists eight years earlier.
Giuliani aides say the accusations are baseless and are being driven by politically motivated unions with strong ties to Democrats.
So far, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the country's biggest firefighter union, says it will aim its anti-Giuliani effort at its own 280,000 members. But union president Harold Schaitberger said the group also will "stand ready" to support a more public campaign by families of firefighters and workers killed in the World Trade Center.
The union's actions are among several potential threats that could put Giuliani on the defensive in discussing the attacks. Lawyers want to question the former mayor as part of a federal lawsuit alleging that the city negligently dumped body parts and other human remains from Ground Zero in the Fresh Kills garbage facility in Staten Island, N.Y.
His testimony "could undercut his hero status," said Norman Siegel, the lawyer representing families who brought the suit.
Giuliani's actions after the attacks helped him build an image as a competent manager who counseled a frightened nation.
But he also has left bitterness among the families of victims.
Some family members said they have not yet decided whether to create a political organization but plan to speak out aggressively.
"This is going to be a war for truth," said Sally Regenhard, whose 28-year-old son, Christian, was one of 343 New York firefighters who died in the attacks. "I'll be speaking out as a mother and a parent."
Anthony Carbonetti, a strategist for Giuliani who was also mayoral chief of staff and later a business partner, said Giuliani's presidential campaign was prepared to respond by showcasing Giuliani's long-standing relationships with rank-and-file firefighters and police officers.
The mayor opened firehouses, Carbonetti said, and pushed for new "bunker gear" that protected fire crews from intense heat. He attributed the union's anger to disagreements over pay issues and partisan interests - the International Association of Fire Fighters was an early supporter of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee, in the 2004 presidential campaign.
"The union is not the firefighters. You have to separate the two," Carbonetti said. "I don't think they'll have any success. The more we keep talking about Rudy's record, the more people will see how much he did to support all the uniformed services in the city."
Giuliani's aides have enlisted help from Lee Ielpi, a retired New York firefighter whose 29-year-old son, Jonathan, also a firefighter, was killed. Ielpi said he got to know the mayor after the attacks.
"Rudy Giuliani was not flying those planes. Terrorists flew those planes and caused that disaster on 9/11," Ielpi said. "Giuliani just happened to be the figure who was mayor at the time who did a spectacular job to the best of his abilities."
Giuliani's dispute with the firefighters union erupted publicly in March when he declined to attend the group's candidate forum. Schaitberger, the union president, then distributed a scathing three-page letter laying out what he called Giuliani's "disgraceful" treatment of firefighters after Sept. 11. A central complaint was an order from the mayor in November 2001 that, citing safety reasons, placed limits on the number of people who could work on the still-smoldering pile at Ground Zero.
Firefighters were irate because they had not yet found remains from all of their comrades who died. Giuliani reversed his decision, but raw feelings remained after the episode.
Written by Los Angeles Times
Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix