Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend

In a video that is by turns emotional, scathing and at times factually questionable, the nation”™s largest union of firefighters is appealing to its members across the country not to support the Republican presidential candidacy of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

Video by Firefighters”™ Union Urges Opposition to Giuliani
by Marc Santora
The New York Times
July 12, 2007

The video, issued by the International Association of Fire Fighters and titled “Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend,” strikes directly at what Mr. Giuliani”™s campaign has presented as a central strength: his leadership of New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks, in which nearly 350 firefighters died.

Though the video is addressed to firefighters, the union, a frequent supporter of national Democratic candidates, has posted it on Google and YouTube in efforts to reach a broader public as well.

The video is largely an echo of blame that some New York firefighters have long placed on Mr. Giuliani for a number of circumstances on Sept. 11, afterward and even beforehand.

It focuses on what the union calls his culpability for a lack of suitable equipment allowing firefighters to communicate with one another during the attacks; on the earlier decision to base the city”™s emergency management office right by the World Trade Center, a location that was an obvious target for terrorists and left him without a base of operations where he might have led more effectively; and, finally, on what the union deems too rapid a shift in the city”™s focus, from recovering the remains of the dead to cleaning up the site.

While some of the conclusions in the 13-minute video can be debated, its emotional appeal is likely to prove powerful. In it, firefighters and relatives of those who fell, speaking in trenchant tones, present a personal case against the former mayor.

“Whenever I hear him talk, I want to scream out to the world and say, “˜God, he is so full of it,”™ “ says Rosaleen Tallon, the sister of one fallen firefighter, Sean Patrick Tallon.

The Giuliani campaign responded forcefully Tuesday even before the video was released, turning to two loyalists with long ties to the New York City Fire Department to rebut the accusations.

One was Richard Shierer, a former firefighter who was commissioner of the city”™s Office of Emergency Management on Sept. 11. The other was Lee Ielpi, himself a retired firefighter whose son died that day and who is now supporting Mr. Giuliani”™s candidacy. Mr. Ielpi called the union”™s claims “nonsense” and the video “disgraceful.”

The campaign also pointed out that the union endorsed the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, in the last presidential election and had supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Harold A. Schaitberger, the union”™s president, said, “I went through that campaign with John Kerry, and there is a difference between what we are saying and Swift boat ads,” a reference to the campaign advertisements that attacked Mr. Kerry”™s Vietnam credentials and were financed by supporters of President Bush. “What we are saying is true.”

Mr. Giuliani has been courting firefighters outside New York as he campaigns across the country. He not only repeatedly cites the bravery displayed by firefighters on Sept. 11 but also often makes detours, not announced on his public schedule, for private visits with first responders.

Mr. Schaitberger said he was focused on preventing the 281,000 firefighters across the country from being “used” by the Giuliani campaign. “The fact of the matter is that we think it is ludicrous that Giuliani wants to become commander in chief,” he said in an interview.

The video cost about $70,000 to produce. The union said it had used money raised by its political action committee, not dues from members.

Mr. Schaitberger said the union had been approached by an outside party, which he would not identify, offering to finance a larger media campaign on the union”™s behalf against Mr. Giuliani. But, he said, there are no plans to accept the offer or for the union to run television advertisements of its own.

Some of the video”™s assertions are at the very least subject to debate. There is no dispute, for instance, that there were communications failures on Sept. 11. But the video highlights the hand-held radios, whereas the central problem, most experts agree, was the failure of a device meant to boost the signal so that it could reach the high floors of the towers.

The video also implies that Mr. Giuliani was more concerned about securing some $200 million in gold stored in a basement vault at the World Trade Center than in recovering the remains of the dead, an accusation widely dismissed by people who closely monitored the cleanup.