Reality Check recently posted an entry regarding some of the inconsistencies in Rudy Giuliani’s security record and his rhetoric out on the campaign trail. Flip-Flops are not limited merely to shifts in rhetoric, after all, but can also emerge when candidates’ past actions do not match their campaign positions. Since 9/11 looms so large in Giuliani’s campaign, scrutiny of his record is bound to intensify as the primaries approach.
Over the weekend the New York Times published an article that highlights the dispute of at least some firefighters with Giuliani’s rhetoric regarding national security and emergency response.
Their images are permanently etched in photographs after the fall of the World Trade Center towers, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and firefighters cloaked in the same gray dust. For months afterward, they stood together at funerals. Mr. Giuliani, in his eulogy, always asked for a round of applause to celebrate the dead firefighter’s life.
It would be easy to assume, then, that Mr. Giuliani can count on the support of the 11,000 men and women of the New York City Fire Department as he runs for president. But that would not be entirely true.
Interviews with more than 50 firefighters and department officers show a mix of admiration and disdain for the former mayor. Many firefighters praise his years in office, citing his success in reducing crime and his leadership after the terrorist attacks. Others harbor a deep resentment for what they describe as his poor treatment of the department before and after Sept. 11.
Some still speak bitterly about a contract that left firefighters without a raise for two years. Some also say Mr. Giuliani has exaggerated the role he played after the terrorist attacks, casting himself as a hero for political gain. The harshest sentiments stem from Mr. Giuliani’s decision nearly two months after 9/11 to reduce the number of firefighters who were allowed to search for colleagues in the rubble — a move that he partially reversed but that still infuriates many firefighters. […]
“I think they assume that we all love him,” said Robert Keys, 48, a battalion chief and 25-year department veteran, referring to people outside New York. “He wound up with this ‘America’s Mayor’ image. Those of us who had to deal with him before and after 9/11 don’t share that same sentiment.” […]
On the campaign trail, Mr. Giuliani frequently invokes the Sept. 11 heroism of “my firefighters,” as he often calls them, as emblematic of American patriotism and resolve. But some firefighters have begun organizing efforts to dispel the notion that they are in his corner.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, an umbrella union based in Washington, spoke out against Mr. Giuliani in March. The group is also preparing a short DVD outlining its grievances that it plans to send to fire departments across the country. Meanwhile, a small group of Sept. 11 family members and firefighters has been protesting outside many of Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appearances.
One of those protesters, Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son that day, said Mr. Giuliani did nothing on Sept. 11 to warrant hero status. “He’s making a million dollars a month with his speeches,” said Chief Riches, 55. “It’s blood money.”
Though no one actually uses the word “flip-flop,” these groups and protestors are essentially claiming that the Giuliani campaign’s solidarity with and support from firefighters is overstated — that his rhetoric does not match his record. It seems comparable to when some black commentators emphasize that Barack Obama is not “the blacks’ candidate” but rather a black candidate that some blacks support. In this case, though, 9/11 ratchets up the intensity of the feelings involved.
It’s important to note that many firefighters are either supporting or willing to consider Giuliani as a candidate — there is no single consensus view within the group.
Daniel McCarthy, a 54-year-old firefighter, said Mr. Giuliani should be judged on more than just his relationship with firefighters. “Maybe he wasn’t great for the Fire Department,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But he was great for the city.” […]
Mr. Giuliani’s supporters credit the former mayor with bringing New York back to something approaching normalcy after the attacks. They also applaud his attendance at the funerals, which continued after his term ended in January 2002.
“Even after he left, he’d go to funerals,” said Chief Michael McGrath, who added that Mr. Giuliani had a right to trumpet his role after the Sept. 11 attacks. “He never ran anything but the city, a city that was attacked,” he said. “What do you think he’s going to talk about?” […]
Other favorable opinions of Mr. Giuliani are based on simple encounters. One firefighter recalled that the former mayor handed him a bottle of water at the scene of a fire. “I’ll never forget that,” he said.
The Times found that the objecting firefighters’ biggest contention with Giuliani circled around wage issues and especially one key decision several weeks after 9/11:
‘Among those firefighters who criticized Mr. Giuliani, almost every one of them said they were still angry about the mayor’s decision several weeks after the attacks to reduce the number of firefighters allowed to search for remains at ground zero, where 343 firefighters died.
Until Mr. Giuliani intervened, the Fire Department was in control of the site, searching first for survivors, then for bodies. Mayor Giuliani, heeding the advice of safety experts, would allow no more than 25 firefighters on the site. That was far fewer than in the weeks immediately following the attacks.
Loose girders and construction equipment that was constantly on the move posed a danger to the firefighters, the Giuliani administration said. And thousands of firefighters who had worked at the site had already been treated for chronic chest pain and coughing.
“All of us standing here have friends that continue to remain there,” Mr. Giuliani said at the time. “And we would love to recover them. But none of us standing here can possibly justify seeing a human being die in this effort if it isn’t handled with great discipline and great responsibility.”
The reduced contingent continued to search for bodies. But firefighters felt, in their words, that he had “shut down the pile.” Emotions simmered, and on Nov. 2, a group of firefighters scuffled with police officers who were blocking access to the site.
After that incident, the policy was relaxed to allow fire company members to escort the remains of their colleagues from ground zero. But the anger lingered.’
The firefighters’ main grievance, then, is that Giuliani emphasized on-site safety at the expense of their efforts to find and recover fallen colleagues. But another Times article suggested that “Mr. Giuliani might have allowed his sense of purpose to trump caution in the rush to prove that his city was not crippled by the attack.”
According to these two different perspectives, then, Giuliani’s 9/11 record was either too cautious or not nearly cautious enough. Considering the tragedy’s magnitude, it is highly unlikely that any leader’s course of action could possibly have satisfied all of the parties involved. The objecting firefighters are correct to point out that Rudy’s 9/11 rhetoric could create the impression that more of them support his candidacy than is actually the case, but political exaggeration does not quite qualify as a genuine flip-flop.