A national celebrity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has cultivated an image as a close friend to police officers and firefighters -- the first responders who won wide praise for heroism during the nation's worst terrorist attacks.
But that image is in for a pounding by the nation's largest firefighters' union, which broke publicly with Giuliani after the attacks and has since emerged as perhaps his most prominent group of critics.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Wednesday released a 13-minute video that seeks to destroy Giuliani's reputation as America's mayor.
With dramatic footage of the Twin Towers collapsing and interviews with firefighters and family members of 9/11 victims, the labor union's video strikes at the core of Giuliani's campaign rationale by depicting his response to the attacks as an exercise in myth-making.
"The things that we needed to do our jobs even better, we didn't have, because of his administration," Steve Cassidy, a New York City firefighter from the Bronx and the president of the city's largest firefighters union, says in the video. Cassidy endorced President Bush in 2004.
"On the heroic memory of 343 dead firefighters, he wants to run for president of the United States. It's a disgrace."
The Giuliani campaign dismisses such criticism as politically motivated griping.
Hours before the firefighters association began circulating the video, the Giuliani campaign issued a statement branding the union the "International Association of Partisan Politics," noting that the union has endorsed Democrats for president going back to Michael Dukakis in 1988.
"In 2008, I expect these same union bosses to endorse Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, so today's comments are just a first step in that process," Lee Ielpi, a retired New York City firefighter, said in a statement distributed by the Giuliani campaign. "Fortunately, rank-and-file firefighters know the difference between politics and leadership."
IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said the union decided to aggressively address Giuliani's record on and around 9/11 because the former Republican mayor has made his response to the attacks the centerpiece of his campaign.
He said he wants his 280,000 members to have more information about the former mayor's record before deciding whom to support in 2008.
"We have Giuliani and his campaign out there trying to sign up firefighters, get them onboard, and many of them have not really fully understood the real story from our perspective about 9/11," Schaitberger said. "This is to make sure that our members know the facts of our relationship with the mayor. He is building his candidacy on the backs of 9/11 victims."
The documentary-style video -- titled "Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend" -- specifically criticizes Giuliani for failing to ensure that firefighters had working communications devices; deciding to place the city emergency command center in the World Trade Center even after the 1993 terrorist attack at the Twin Towers; and deciding to abandon efforts to recover remains of dead firefighters as he sought a quick clean-up of Ground Zero.