By Sam Youngman - 03/08/07 08:06 PM EST
Citing a “disgraceful lack of respect” for firefighters killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an influential union initially decided that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) would be the only presidential candidate not invited to the union’s upcoming presidential forum.
In a draft letter to its union members that was never finalized or sent, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger and other affiliate officers wrote that “the disrespect that [Giuliani] exhibited to our 343 fallen FDNY brothers, their families and our New York City IAFF leadership in the wake of that tragic day has not been forgiven or forgotten.”
However, the firefighters changed their minds and Giuliani was subsequently invited to speak at the forum, scheduled for next week. He accepted the invitation but pulled out of the event late Wednesday, according to union officials.
Giuliani’s campaign indicated it had a scheduling conflict, and although the ex-mayor wanted to attend and expressed that sentiment to the union, the campaign never actually accepted.
The forum will include 2008 candidates from both parties.
In the Feb. 28 draft letter obtained by The Hill, Schaitberger and other union officials say Giuliani, in November 2001, “sharply” reduced the number of firefighters allowed to search the remains at ground zero. The letter estimates the number allowed to search was cut from 300 to 25.
When firefighters and family members protested the move, 15 firefighters, including some union leaders, were arrested, and reports from the time say five police officers were injured in the clash.
At the time, only 101 of the 343 firefighters killed had been recovered from the site.
Giuliani eventually allowed the firefighters back to ground zero. Media accounts from 2001 quoted the mayor decrying the “misinformation” being spread by union officials.
In response to the draft letter, the Giuliani campaign released a statement from Tim Brown, a former firefighter and executive director of Firefighters for Rudy.
“We are honored by the support of so many first responders from across the country and are appreciative of their continued enthusiasm for Mayor Giuliani’s candidacy,” Brown said. “We look forward to future events and an ongoing conversation with America’s firefighters.”
The union letter goes on to allege that Giuliani moved to a “scoop and dump” removal process that would expedite the clearing of debris after “the final removal of tens of millions of dollars of gold, silver and other assets of the Bank of Nova Scotia” that were buried under the World Trade Center.
“Our disdain for him is not about issues or a disputed contract, it is about a visceral personal affront to the fallen, to our union and, indeed, to every one of us who has ever risked our lives by going into a burning building to save lives and property,” the draft letter states.
It concludes with the union leaders urging members, if contacted by Giuliani or a campaign representative, to “say not just, ‘No,’ but ‘Hell no.’”
Giuliani, whose stature rose nationally in the days following Sept. 11, earning him the nickname “America’s Mayor,” is soaring in national and most state polls.
Capt. Peter Gorman, president of one of the New York locals and one of the men arrested in November 2001, also signed the letter.
Gorman told The Hill the letter was an “internal exercise,” and was never meant to be seen by anyone outside of a select few.
Gorman said the final decision made was to have a truly open forum, even if that meant inviting Giuliani.
IAFF spokesman Jeff Zack said another draft of the letter was being written to explain to members what had happened in the past week, beginning with the internal discussions, the original letter and Giuliani’s ultimate decision not to attend.
But Zack said the union would continue to tell their members about what they perceive as Giuliani’s many misdeeds.
Asked if the union would use the same energy to defeat Giuliani as it did to try and elect Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) president in 2004, Zack said the group would work hard to let their members know how they feel.
“We will make sure that all of our members know his track record with our locals up there and the circumstances surrounding 9/11 as we see it,” Zack said. “And you know, this union’s not shy about telling those kind of stories.”
The draft letter and continued falling-out between the firefighters and Giuliani will likely result in more arrows slung.
The IAFF, in its correspondence, explains that the decision not to invite Giuliani should not be read as a result of any dealings the New York local unions had with the mayor prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
But that same passage — which is underlined — does say the union will “document and explain in additional correspondence later on during the campaign” Giuliani’s “unfriendly” relationship with those unions before Sept. 11.
The intensity of Schaitberger’s feelings for Giuliani has not dulled over the years.
In 2004, when Giuliani began making forays into national politics, attending a rally on President Bush’s behalf in Manchester, N.H., Schaitberger was there, eager to counter the mayor’s visit.