The mystique of "America's mayor" shows signs of fraying.
The nation's largest firefighters' union is planning to send out 280,000 videotapes attacking former New York Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his pre-9/11 record -- including his decision to place New York City's emergency operations center in the World Trade Center before Sept. 11, 2001.
In recent months, families of 9/11 victims have planted themselves outside Giuliani fundraisers, and several critical books and documentaries have been released.
Reports have emerged sharply questioning Giuliani's response to the 9/11 attacks, with critics portraying a bullying mayor who, in his zeal for a quick cleanup, brushed aside health concerns about the air at ground zero.
And Giuliani's former emergency management director, Jerome Hauer, is now a prominent Giuliani critic, questioning the former mayor's handling of the turf wars that divided the police and fire departments before 9/11.
"In terms of preparedness, response and leadership, Rudy fell down," said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, which is preparing the video for distribution to its members.
"Rudy has created an image of himself that he likes to expand upon: that he's the hero of 9/11," Zack said. "And it's not true, especially from the point of view of the firefighters who lived through that day and the families of those who died on that day."
The Giuliani campaign casts the accusations as politically motivated attacks.
While they concede that mistakes were made in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, they express confidence that voters will stick with the image of a strong Giuliani they have in their minds.
"There are groups that for political reasons are going to criticize, but Mayor Giuliani is focused on how the American people can tackle the terrorists' war on us,'' said Maria Comella, a campaign spokeswoman. "There are millions of people around the world who saw the mayor's strong leadership for themselves in the days surrounding Sept. 11."
Giuliani campaign aides note that the firefighters' union has long closely aligned itself with Democrats. And the campaign issued a statement from a retired New York firefighter, Lee Ielpi, defending the mayor's record.
"It should be no surprise that a politically motivated attack is coming from union leaders who backed John Kerry for president in 2004," Ielpi said. "The sentiments expressed in this video are out of step with the IAFF's membership -- clearly there's a difference between the rank-and-file members and these union leaders."
Raising questions about Giuliani's leadership on and around 9/11 threatens to undercut the central rationale for his candidacy: that he understands the nature of terrorist threats and has shown strong leadership during the worst attack the nation has ever experienced.
Yet as Giuliani's campaign has heated up, new revelations continue to pour out.
Wednesday, New York City's medical examiner -- for the first time -- linked ground zero dust to the death of someone who inhaled it: a 42-year-old woman whose office was a block away from the World Trade Center and died five months after the attack.