When Rudy Giuliani speaks Tuesday at the sixth anniversary remembrance of the World Trade Center attack, he will once again become “America’s mayor” — the man the nation rallied behind in the wake of the horrific 9/11 attacks.
But the former New York City mayor’s image is becoming increasingly brittle as critics ranging from city firefighters to New York’s former port chief step up complaints of his handling of the disaster then — and what they see as his politicizing of it now.
As a presidential candidate, Giuliani is clearly benefiting from his role in 9/11 and its aftermath. In a late-August NewsMax/Zogby poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, 34 percent of respondents said Giuliani is best suited to deal with another terror attack launched by Osama bin Laden against the U.S., while 16 percent favored Mitt Romney, 15 percent cited John McCain, and Fred Thompson was trusted most by 8 percent. Giuliani’s leadership over his rivals on this question cut across every demographic group.
In recent weeks, the GOP presidential candidate has seen his 9/11 credentials challenged on several fronts: His claim that he shared the dangers of now-ill rescue and recovery workers who toiled for months at New York's ground zero; his acceptance of his speaking role at this year's anniversary ceremony during a contentious political season; and the inevitable increased scrutiny into his precise actions on 9/11 and on the days that preceded and followed.
Locals certainly appear unhappy with the 9/11 story Giuliani is selling.
An Aug. 29 poll of New York state voters by Rasmussen Associates, asking who they would choose for president in a head-to-head match between Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, gave the former first lady a 25-point edge: Clinton 58 percent, Giuliani 33 percent.
Another Aug. 29 poll, this one online by New York's Newsday, found a whopping 89 percent agreeing that Giuliani should not speak at this year's remembrance. And George Marlin, the former head of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority — the World Trade Center's landlord — expressed to NewsMax his concern that the former mayor is using the anniversary to further his political ambition.
"Because of this presidential campaign, and the controversy he has stirred about how much time he spent at ground zero, I think if he was a man he would step aside [and not speak at the ceremony]," Marlin told NewsMax.
"The focus of the ceremonies should be on the memory of the victims and their families, not on a politician running for high public office."
Lawsuits affecting thousands of people have been lodged in recent years against New York City by those who say they lost loved ones unnecessarily on 9/11 due to a faulty radio system Giuliani purchased, and by others who say they were made ill while working hastily to clear "the pile" at ground zero without proper breathing gear.
The uptick in criticism of Giuliani's handling of 9/11 began over the summer as preparations were underway for this year's anniversary remembrance.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, once a strong ally of Giuliani, in July released a 13-minute video documenting what it calls the mayor's numerous "failures of leadership" before, during and after the Trade Center attacks.
In particular, the firefighters complain that Giuliani located the city's disaster response headquarters within a known terrorist target, the World Trade Center; failed to provide working radios, which they say directly led to the deaths of 121 firefighters in one of the towers; halted recovery efforts at ground zero once $200 million in gold bullion was retrieved; and failed to provide proper breathing equipment to those working at the site, again leading to more preventable deaths.
IAFF President Harold Schaitberger, in introducing the scathing video, charged that Giuliani "has used the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, to create a carefully crafted persona. The fact is, what Rudy portrays is not a full picture of the decisions made that led, in our view, to the unnecessary deaths of FDNY members and the attempt to stop the dignified recovery of those lost."
Jack McDonnell, president of the New York chapter of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, is even harsher in the video. Over images of Giuliani seemingly in flight from ground zero, McDonnell says: "Here was the leader of the city running away from the scene, leaving the uniformed personnel from fire and police to deal with this tragic situation . . .
"If you're looking for an effective leader to take this country forward," he says in the voiceover, "Rudy Giuliani is not your leader."
Upon the video's release, Schaitberger gave this explanation: "We produced this documentary because we need to make sure our members know Giuliani's real record. Giuliani's biggest problem is that this video is a bipartisan condemnation of his record on 9/11."
Giuliani aides countered that the firefighters union is driven by political considerations. The union was an early supporter of Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.
“The union is not the firefighters,” Giuliani strategist Anthony Carbonetti told the Los Angeles Times.
“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.”
Some observers in New York suspect that Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who apparently has had a rift with Giuliani — could be helping to orchestrate the anti-Giuliani efforts by feeding inside information to city officials.
The firefighters video was followed a few weeks later with boastful remarks from Giuliani aimed at deflecting criticism. Speaking to reporters in Cincinnati, Giuliani said: "I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I'm one of them."
Critics were enraged by the comments, with some claiming that Giuliani spent more time at Yankees baseball games during that period than at ground zero.
"He is such a liar, because the only time he was down there was for photo-ops with celebrities, with politicians, with diplomats," deputy fire chief Jimmy Riches, who lost his son on 9/11, told The Associated Press.
"On 9/11 all he did was run. He got that soot on him, and I don’t think he's taken a shower since."
Giuliani quickly attempted to clarify his comments. "I think I could have said it better," he told syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher. "You know, what I was saying was, 'I'm there with you.'"
Giuliani's response to the vocal outrage, according to recent poll numbers, may have quelled some of the controversy among his party faithful. He still remains far ahead of other GOP challengers among registered Republicans, even in Pennsylvania, where one of the 9/11 aircraft went down.
Results of a Franklin & Marshall College/Philadelphia Daily News/WGAL-TV poll of Republicans on Aug. 30 puts his likely primary tally at 32 percent, compared to 19 percent for McCain, 12 percent for Romney, and 11 percent for newcomer Thompson. Recent nationwide polls of likely GOP primary voters show similar numbers.
"Giuliani's greatest strength on the campaign trail is his identification with 9/11," University of Virginia political scientist and frequent cable news commentator Larry Sabato told NewsMax. "It's that label as 'America's Mayor' that sustains him despite his liberal positions on social issues." But Sabato has a caveat — one that producers of the IFAA video, if it gains broad Internet and TV attention, could capitalize on.
"The groups that have lined up to change his image so far haven't made much of an impact, but that could change as the campaign moves toward its white hot phase. Personal stories from 9/11 victims and firefighters can be powerful if well crafted.
"The one protection Rudy has is that most people saw a lot of him in 2001 and made up their own minds," he tells NewsMax. "It is tough to shake a conclusion reached personally by the voters. We'll see."
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