The cattle call season enters a new phase this week when thousands of firefighters from every congressional district in the country hear from a bipartisan group of presidential candidates in Washington, D.C.
Ten 2008 hopefuls -- notably, those not named Rudy Giuliani -- are slated to deliver back-to-back 15-minute speeches Wednesday to the nation's firefighters union. The multicandidate forums that have taken place thus far have been single-party affairs.
"There are those candidates that were invited that are not necessarily up and down on our issues," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "But we want to make available to them the platform and an opportunity to make their case with our leadership and our members."
Schaitberger attributes his union's ability to attract four Republicans and six Democrats to three factors: firefighters' positive image among the public, their ubiquity and their middle-of-the-road orientation.
The 280,000-member IAFF, which gave a critical boost to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's bid for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination when it endorsed him, plans to make an endorsement in the 2008 race this fall.
Giuliani's absence from this event is raising eyebrows, especially because the former New York mayor is so closely associated with firefighters and Sept. 11. Giuliani was invited to attend the forum but ultimately declined the invitation, citing a scheduling conflict.
But tensions have been brewing between the firefighters and Giuliani for some time.
Friday, Schaitberger sent a letter to the IAFF's local affiliates blasting Giuliani for scaling back the effort to recover human remains at the World Trade Center site before all of the remains had been recovered.
"He chose to make a decision based on redevelopment pressures," Schaitberger told ABC News.
Giuliani's camp maintains that Giuliani was following the recommendations of safety experts who were brought in by the New York City Department of Design and Construction and the engineering-construction firm Bechtel.
Giuliani's campaign released a letter Friday from Lee Ielpi, a retired New York firefighter, saying: "There is no one who respects firefighters and first responders more than Rudy Giuliani."
Schaitberger believes Giuliani's decision to begin a "scoop-and-dump" operation on Nov. 2 deprived some of the families of the 343 firefighters who had died on 9/11 from having a proper burial, and he does not accept the Giuliani camp's safety claim.
"It is not a coincidence," Schaitberger said, "that the day after retrieving the assets" of the Bank of Nova Scotia, which had a vault under the World Trade Center, "is when he decided that he was concerned about the safety of our members."
"All of a sudden, now he is concerned about our safety," Schaitberger said. "No, not in our view."
Giuliani responded to the IAFF's criticism today, during a news conference in Washington, D.C.
"The firefighters are my heroes," said Giuliani before adding: "As far as any particular union is concerned … some tend to be heavily Democratic unions, so you can have all kinds of agendas there, but it does nothing for my bond with firefighters, or what I would do for them if I were president of the United States."