Giuliani’s campaign says the former mayor has always supported firefighters.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The country's largest U.S. firefighters union Wednesday blasted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's performance in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, aiming a blow at the cornerstone of Giuliani's presidential campaign.
Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani is under attack by firefighters questioning his 9/11 record.
"Mayor Giuliani twisted the heroism of my brother to suit his own mistakes of that day," Rosaleen Tallon, whose brother Sean was killed in the attack, said in a video the International Association of Fire Fighters released on its Web site.
Survivors of the attack and relatives of some of those who died in the twin towers blamed Giuliani for a lack of radio gear they said could have saved the lives of more than 100 firefighters who had been ordered to evacuate the north tower before it collapsed.
And they criticized Giuliani for placing his emergency command center in the World Trade Center complex before the attacks, after the towers had been the target of a previous bombing in 1993.
"He's not a leader," said retired Deputy Chief Jim Riches, whose son was killed in the 2001 attack. "He's running on 9/11, and it's all a fallacy."
Giuliani's campaign responded by accusing the union of being a partisan group, with a history of supporting Democrats. The campaign released a statement from a retired firefighter, Lee Ielpi, who accused IAFF leaders of being "clearly out of step with their membership."
"In 2008, I expect these same union bosses to endorse Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, so today's comments are just a first step in that process," Ielpi said. "Fortunately, rank-and-file firefighters know the difference between politics and leadership."
The 13-minute video is reminiscent of the television ads run by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a Republican-backed group that accused Sen. John Kerry of lying to obtain combat decorations in Vietnam during Kerry's 2004 Democratic presidential campaign. Though contradicted by Navy records and Kerry's former crewmates, the group's allegations damaged a pillar of the Massachusetts senator's presidential bid - his background as a decorated Navy officer.
The al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington left nearly 3,000 dead. Most of that toll came from the destruction of the World Trade Center, where 2,750 people - including 343 firefighters - were killed.
At the time, Giuliani was nearing the end of his second term as mayor, could not run again and had given up a planned Senate campaign amid a battle with prostate cancer and a messy divorce. His efforts to rally New Yorkers in the aftermath of that bloody day revived his public stature and led admirers to dub him "America's mayor."
The IAFF was already critical of Giuliani's decision to remove firefighters and other rescue workers from the task of recovering remains from the wreckage of the trade center. In the new video, the union argues that 121 firefighters in the north tower could have survived if they had been able to receive orders to evacuate after the south tower fell.
Firefighters reported problems with their radio gear after the 1993 bombing. Union leaders argue in the new video that Giuliani, who took office later that year, failed to solve those problems in the eight years between attacks.
"He gave us nothing when we needed a life-saving radio," says Peter Gorman, a former local president.
Giuliani told the independent commission that investigated the attacks that police and fire departments should have radio systems that allow them to communicate on the same channel, but that the systems are designed to operate differently "90 percent of the time."
He said new radios introduced in early 2001 were withdrawn because they were "too complicated to use" - but union officials say they were introduced without proper testing and firefighters were unable to communicate with them.
During the same testimony, he defended his decision to build the city's emergency operations center in the 7 World Trade Center building, which collapsed on September 11. Local offices of the CIA, the Secret Service and other law-enforcement agencies were located in the same building.
But he told commissioners, "In retrospect, obviously, you wouldn't want to put it there if you had known what was going to happen."
Some of those in the video accused Giuliani of blaming the victims by telling the 9/11 commission that many firefighters decided to "stand their ground" when ordered to evacuate. The commission's staff reports partially support his testimony, concluding that some firefighters put off evacuating to help injured or handicapped civilians.
But while some firefighters, including at least two battalion chiefs, received the evacuation order, "other firefighters did not receive the transmissions." The system was overwhelmed by radio traffic, and some of the firefighters had rushed to the scene while off-duty without their radios, the report states.