Rudy Giuliani's plan to ride in a Miami-Dade firetruck in Sunday's Three Kings parade has outraged some firefighters who say the presidential candidate has ''lied'' about his 9/11 record because he did too little to equip and protect emergency workers.
The controversy -- unwittingly set in motion by County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa -- has politically pitted firefighters against one another in Miami-Dade as well as in New York. To quiet the feud, the IAFF's local Miami-Dade chapter, 1403, will cover its numbers on the union-owned firetruck by draping it with an American flag.
Giuliani's campaign said he will probably ride in the truck and walk beside it with firefighters.
The campaign responded to questions about his record with a statement that stressed his generous spending on New York emergency management agencies. It also dismissed some firefighter attacks on his mayoral record as a partisan smear linked to the Democratic-leaning International Association of Fire Fighters union, which released a popular but questionable YouTube video and website calling the Republican's leadership an ``Urban Legend.''
Jim Riches, a recently retired New York firefighter featured in the union's media, told The Miami Herald that Giuliani doesn't deserve to go anywhere near a flag-draped firetruck.
''This is improper. Rudy lied about what he did on 9/11. He's giving the appearance he's backed by firefighters and he isn't,'' Riches said, ``Rudy has to go all the way down to Florida to get firefighters to stand next to him because he can't get that support in New York.''
But Howard Safir, a former New York fire and police commissioner, disagreed with that assessment in a written statement:
``Firefighters across the country have no greater friend than Rudy Giuliani. Those of us who have worked with Mayor Giuliani know he has always been a strong and consistent supporter of firefighters and first responders. On September 11th and the days that followed, Mayor Giuliani once again demonstrated his commitment to the safety and well-being of our firefighters and his respect for their extraordinary courage and sacrifice.''
The press statement also noted that Giuliani created the city's first-ever Emergency Management Office.
But during his entire tenure as mayor, one faulty and critically important emergency-management piece of equipment wasn't replaced: An emergency radio system. Giuliani hasn't explained why.
Riches said he believes his son, Jimmy Riches, died in the north tower of the World Trade Center because the radio system and command were so ineffective that he never got the word to evacuate.
''We had the same radio system we had when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993,'' he said. ``We didn't have respirators to help with the cleanup and rescue, so now 70 percent of first responders are sick. And he promoted people to the top who all ran before the towers fell.''
Riches learned of Giuliani's invitation in an e-mail to all Metro-Dade Firefighters union members that listed local firefighter Joaquin Del Cueto as a contact. Closing with ''ALL HANDS ON DECK!!!'' the e-mail invites members to meet Giuliani, wear Giuliani T-shirts and walk beside the firetruck to ``GET OUT THE VOTE!!!!''
After the e-mail was sent, Riches called Del Cueto, who offered condolences. Del Cueto said he ''respectfully disagrees'' with Riches' opinion and that of the national IAFF union, which backed Democrat Chris Dodd for president before he withdrew from the race.
''We don't want this to be hurtful,'' Del Cueto said. ``Sometimes the union leaders don't represent the views of all the rank-and-file members.''
One member of the Metro-Dade Firefighters union, who declined to comment to The Miami Herald, forwarded Del Cueto's e-mail to Riches' group. He wrote that Giuliani's appearance ''is an embarrassment to the IAFF. Please help us stop our local from going down the wrong road.'' Another union member, who spoke anonymously because he was publicly discussing private union proceedings, said many members objected because they don't back Giuliani and because his firetruck ride was sprung on them without a vote of the membership.
The issue surfaces as Giuliani concentrates on winning Florida, in part by winning big with Miami-Dade's largest Republican group: hispanics. He has slipped in the polls as John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney -- who plans to be at Sunday's parade -- Ron Paul and Fred Thompson plan to campaign in Florida after the upcoming Michigan and South Carolina primaries.
The questioning and attack of Giuliani's 9/11 record goes to the heart of his campaign: leadership during 9/11. Millions saw televised images of Giuliani as a hands-on leader amid images of the dust of the twin towers swirling around him.
But soon, firefighters and families questioned whether he did enough. In concert with the IAFF, the critics point out that Giuliani pressed to have an emergency response center established at the World Trade Center -- a bad idea because it already had been attacked in 1993.
And though Giuliani was sworn in as mayor on Jan. 1 1994, he never was able to upgrade the radio system that ultimately failed during both attacks.
The nonprofit Annenberg Political Fact Check service noted that ``Giuliani bears some responsibility for the widely documented failings of the fire department's radio communications on 9/11. It is true that the effective functioning of the fire department is a major responsibility of any mayor.''
But the reporting service described the IAFF ''urban legend'' attack ad against Giuliani as ''misleading'' because it suggested the failed radio system ''was the only reason'' firefighters died and portrayed Giuliani as acting callously while firefighters sifted the rubble for the remains of their fallen comrades.
Annenberg quoted the 9/11 Commission, which found that 24 of the 32 fire companies did hear an evacuation order. But it found the fire command dispatchers failed to follow protocol by not repeatedly saying ''Mayday'' into the faulty radio system nor did it inform firefighters that the south tower had collapsed.
Riches said blame for the dispatch troubles ultimately rest with Giuliani.
Sosa said she was unaware of the controversy. She noted Giuliani's results and his tax-cutting record, praising Giuliani's ''knowledge and expertise in the war on terror, his leadership on 9/11 that led all the police and firefighters to praise him.'' Sosa, as commissioners do every year during the Three Kings Parade, planned to ride in a firetruck. She requested that Giuliani ride along, and said she didn't know that some firefighters disliked him.
''Not every firefighter is against Giuliani,'' she said. ``The firefighters here are endorsing him.''
The president of the local union, Stan Hills, told The Miami Herald that union hasn't endorsed Giuliani or any other candidate.
''We have some firefighters for Giuliani and some against him, and I'm hearing from both,'' he said. ``What's the context of all this? There's a primary election in Florida on Jan. 29.''read more | digg story