Sept. 11, 2007 — -- On Sept. 11, 2001, New York -- and America -- was irrevocably changed by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The images from that day are permanently burned into the memories of all who watched the two iconic buildings collapse. One such indelible image is that of a debris-covered, grim and determined Mayor Rudy Giuliani marching the streets near the site, lending a sense of leadership amid the chaos and tragedy.
That legacy has become the center of Giuliani's presidential campaign, suggesting that his expertise on terrorism adds to his qualifications in the race. But there are critics who disagree with Giuliani's supposed terrorism credentials. How much is true about the man behind the myth of Sept. 11?
The former mayor attended a memorial for the victims of Sept. 11 today. Also in attendance was Jim Riches, a battalion chief on Sept. 11 and a 30-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. Riches was at home that morning, six years ago, when his phone rang -- his 29-year-old-son, also a firefighter, was working that day.
Responding immediately, Riches arrived right after the second tower collapsed. "The scene was chaotic. I mean, there were bodies all over the place," he said. "I saw a couple guys that I knew and they said they had seen my son go into the North Tower and I figured right away he was gone." It was months later, on March 25, 2002, that his son's body was found.
Dr. Michael Cohen, a psychologist, was also called to work on Sept. 11. He had been involved in crisis management in the wake of the 1993 attack on the same World Trade Center. The mayor -- not known for taking advice easily -- met with Cohen on the morning of Sept. 12. Impressed by Giuliani's leadership, Cohen said he felt he was "in the presence of a presence." His message to the mayor was to be authoritative, and truthful.
In a press conference held an hour after that meeting, Cohen said Giuliani "knew how important this was, what his role was in this. I never saw him underestimate or overestimate his role." It was that powerful presence that created the Giuliani legacy that remains today. Time magazine named him Man of the Year, and he was quickly dubbed "America's Mayor."
Sept. 11 has been at the center of Giuliani's presidential campaign. As he criss-crosses the country he often talks of terrorism, and suggests that he is an expert on the issue.
"I believe the most important issue is being on the offense against Islamic terrorism," he said in August. "I think there's no candidate in the race who has as much experience as I do."
Joe Lhota, who was deputy mayor under Giuliani and is now an unpaid adviser and campaign surrogate for Giuliani, contends that Giuliani does indeed have terrorism expertise. "Terrorism is not something prior to 9/11 that you went around and talked about a lot," he said. "I think he's knowledgeable beyond the normal leader."
Jerry Hauer, who was appointed by then-Mayor Giuliani to create the city's first centralized Office of Emergency Management, disagrees. He stepped down from his post eight months before the planes hit the towers, and has since become a vocal critic of his former boss.
Hauer said when it comes to terrorism, he thinks Giuliani is a "phony." "I don't ever remember a conversation when Rudy was mayor when he and I ever really talked about Islamic militants, Islamic fundamentalism, Islam at all. Al Qaeda was never part of his vocabulary…and I was responsible for ensuring the city was ready for those kind of events."
FBI agent Jack Cloonan was the head of a special interagency task force based in New York City to eliminate Osama bin Laden. "I can tell you the entire time I was on the bin Laden case from 1996 until I retired in October 2002, during that entire timeframe when Mr. Giuliani was Mayor of New York, I never heard a question from the mayor or from the mayor's office to my office," Cloonan said.
Riches, along with a group of other firefighter families, have banded together to discredit Giuliani as he runs for president. According to Riches, among firefighters "he's not well liked at all. Every time you hear Rudy Giuliani's name you'll hear a four letter word to follow it," he said. "And it's not 'hero.'" He went on to say, "He's not America's mayor, he's America's night-mayor."
Riches said his anger isn't just the result of losing his son and nearly dying himself from lung disease, which he attributes to his work on the pile. He said the city's failure to coordinate emergency response efforts between the police and fire department on Sept. 11 was the mayor's fault, and that the Office of Emergency Management should have been in charge.
"It would have helped if we'd had a few drills and been more prepared that day, but we weren't that day and that falls back to the administration of Giuliani," he said.
The 9/11 Commission Report says that essentially the Office of Emergency Management wasn't a factor that day -- they played virtually no role. In fact, the chairmen of the commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, admitted in their book "Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission" that they didn't vigorously question Giuliani about this and other alleged failures because, they say, of his hero status.
Hauer contends that lives could have been saved if the Giuliani administration had enforced a unified command structure. But even a unified command structure could not have made the fire departments faulty radios work -- an issue that was apparent in the 1993 bombings as well.
Riches holds the Giuliani administration responsible for the firefighters' faulty radios. "They didn't work in '93. They didn't work in 2001. And we had 121 men die in the north tower that day. I'm not saying they all would have got out, maybe some of them were up too high, but some of them would have heard the call to get out and that's his failure to prepare us."
The 9/11 Commission also concluded that there were multiple problems with the fire department radios. Lhota said that "many of the radios worked on 9/11. Many of the radios did not work. If you have numerous radios and everyone is trying to talk at the same time nobody gets through."
The location of the city's emergency command post at the World Trade Center site, in building No. 7, has also drawn much criticism -- located at an already identified terrorist target, the office was wiped out, leaving no readily available command center. In response, Lhota said, "Our Command Center had multiple functions. It wasn't just for terrorism related incidents. We opened up the command center whenever there were big snowstorms in New York, we opened up the command center for, if you recall, West Nile…having it in lower Manhattan made all the sense in the world."
Lhota said Giuliani shouldn't be blamed for what happened that day, and that he is a competent leader. "If anything, I believe they should give him credit for the number of lives that were saved. More lives were saved than perished on that day. And I think we're losing sight of how cataclysmic an event that was."
He went on to say, "What he showed on 9/11 was the competence that he showed from the day he became mayor, what it means to be in control, what it means to be compassionate, what it means to know what you need to know to get the city moving again. And I think America was able, through that lens, to see Rudy Giuliani. And that's what they saw."