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Candidates Speak to Firefighters


Sen. Hillary Clinton drew ovations from a convention of firefighters Wednesday for promising them support and suggesting President Bush’s vow of support at Ground Zero was little more than a photo op. The image of Bush grabbing a bullhorn at Ground Zero seemed for a time to define his presidency, but Clinton dismissed it as just that image, not reality.

“It’s great for the photo ops, but how about taking care of the people who have taken care of us?” Clinton said at a cattle call of 11 presidential candidates at the International Fire Fighters Association yesterday.

Clinton invoked their experience in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the aftermath, charging that since then firefighters had become “invisible” to the President.

“I want to make clear today, you’re not invisible to the people of this country and you’re sure not invisible to me,” she said. “When we retake the White House, you will no longer be invisible to the President of the United States.”

Clinton ripped Bush for proposing $1.7 billion in cuts to key homeland security programs, for trying to take back $125 million for Sept. 11 compensation programs and for cutting funding for the Safer Act, which pays for training and hiring firefighters.

Clinton got three standing ovations for her speech after warming up the crowd with a Mae West-like quip about a cocktail reception they had the night before. “Thanks so much and thanks for last night, too,” she said, bringing laughs and “whoas!” from the firefighters.

The New Yorker seemed to get the best of her top Democratic competitors, John Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. “Barack got 10s in most areas, and a couple of eights,” said Florida firefighter Ken Marks. “She got one more 10. I loved it. I thought she was really electric.”

Many said Obama focused too much on Iraq, and not enough on firefighters.

The only candidate who got poor reviews generally was one who turned down the invitation to speak: Rudy Giuliani.

Many in the union are still angry over the ex-mayor’s orders to stop searching for rescuers’ bodies under The Pile at Ground Zero. That led to ugly battles with cops and the arrests of firefighters.

The bad feelings were inflamed last week after Giuliani declined to attend after some members circulated a letter against him. “He’s a dictator,” said Marks. “He’s more of a Saddam Hussein than Hussein was.”

Some wished he had come to explain himself. “If a candidate has angered a group of people in a certain way, he ought to reach out and find out what’s wrong and fix it,” said Bill Mott of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Meanwhile, a Time magazine poll out Wednesday said Obama has narrowed Clinton’s lead to 7 points, 30 percent to 23 percent. That’s down from a 12-point edge in late February and 19 points in January.

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