Sept. 11, 2007 -- Today, the former mayor of New York City attended a memorial for the victims of Sept. 11.
Because, in large part, he responded to what happened six years ago, he is now a Republican hopeful for the presidency of the United States. Also there this morning was Jim Riches, a battalion chief on 9/11 and a 30-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. Riches says he voted for George Bush and for then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Riches was at home six years ago when the phone rang. "Somebody called me up and I responded right away. I knew my son was working."
His 29-year-old son Jimmy was also a firefighter. Riches recalled what he saw after rushing to the World Trade Center. "The scene was chaotic. I mean there were bodies all over the place. We were helping injured people to the ambulances. I saw a couple guys that I knew and they said they had seen my son go in the North Tower and I figured right away he was gone."
Becoming 'America's Mayor'
Giuliani also rushed to ground zero that morning. His former deputy Joe Lhota was there as well.
"I remember telling him people are jumping and he said to me 'No, no they're not jumping.' I said, 'Yes, people are jumping.' I think there is an HBO special that shows him in slow motion turning around as I am pointing up and you can see his face and the emotions in his face as he realized the severity of what was going on."
On that day, all eyes were on Giuliani and he seemed to know it.
Another New Yorker called to service on 9/11 was Michael Cohen, a psychologist who had been involved in crisis management after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Giuliani wanted to meet with him on the morning of Sept. 12.
"It was very early in the morning. It was just turning into daylight," Cohen said of his meeting with Giuliani. "I was pretty impressed. I felt like I was really in the presence of a presence."
That morning, Cohen spent an hour with Giuliani, a mayor he did not vote to elect, and advised him to be "authoritative and truthful." Within an hour or so of that meeting with Cohen, Giuliani held a news conference reassuring New Yorkers that the city would get through the crisis and become stronger.
"He was brilliant," said Cohen. "If I made any contribution, it was helping him organize what he was already instinctively doing. I never saw him exaggerate, underestimate or overestimate his role."
The mayor was a powerful presence. Images of him covered in soot at ground zero were broadcast to the world, reinforcing the sense that he was in charge. Time magazine made him "Man of the Year," and he was quickly dubbed "America's Mayor."
Sept. 11 has been at the center of Giuliani's current campaign for presidency. As he crisscrosses the country, he often talks of his experience fighting terrorism.
"I believe the most important issue is being on offense against Islamic terrorism," Giuliani has said on the trail. "I think there's no candidate in the race who has as much experience as I do."
Indeed, his terrorism experience dates back to at least 1976, when he served on President Ford's terrorism task force.
"Most Americans did not know al Qaeda existed before 9/11. Rudy Giuliani did," said former deputy Lhota.
But the attention has come at a price, as his critics have pounced on his claim and his record on 9/11. Jerry Hauer was once appointed by Giuliani to create the city's first centralized Office of Emergency Management, a post from which he resigned several months before the World Trade Center attacks.
Hauer has now become a vocal critic of his former boss — and a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. He is also a consultant to ABC News on issues involving disaster management.
"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 these kinds of events."
Lhota disputes Hauer's account. "Terrorism is not something prior to 9/11 that you went around and talked about a lot. I was in numerous meetings where we talked about emergency preparedness in the case of bioterrorism. Well, who's gonna do bioterrorism? Americans against Americans? I think not."
Lhota says Giuliani's claim to lead the candidates on terrorism experience means, "he is knowledgeable beyond the normal leader."
But one of the nation's leading authorities on al Qaeda disagrees. Former FBI agent Jack Cloonan was the head of a special interagency task force to eliminate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Cloonan is also an ABC News consultant.
"The entire time I was on the bin Laden case from 1996 until I retired in October 2002, during that entire time frame when Mr. Giuliani was mayor of New York, I never heard a question from the mayor [or] the mayor's office to my office."
Lhota says that Cloonan is flatly wrong and that the NYPD kept him posted about the Joint Terrorism Task Force all along. "This idea that Rudy Giuliani never showed an interest in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, or any of the efforts of the Joint Terrorism Task force is pure fantasy."
After the towers fell on 9/11 Riches worked on the pile for 12, sometimes 18 hours a day for months. On March 25, 2002, he was headed home when a grim call pulled him back. The body of his son Jimmy had been found.
Riches said, "We found his helmet, and we found his body and we draped him in an American flag and put him on a stretcher. My other three sons, who are all now firemen, who followed in his footsteps. Their brother was their hero before 9/11 and he will be their hero forever."
Prepared for 9/11?
Riches is a member of a vocal group of firefighters who say Giuliani did not adequately prepare New York for the events of 9/11. Riches says that the majority of firefighters feel the same. "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. And it's not hero."
Riches says he's angry not just because he lost his son and nearly died himself from a lung disease — he attributes it to his work on the so-called "Pile" — but because while Giuliani put together an emergency state-of-the-art command system designed to coordinate between police and fire departments, that system failed on 9/11.
Riches said, "It just became so chaotic down there and OEM [New York City Office of Emergency Management] was supposed to coordinate everything. It would have helped if we'd been more prepared that day, but we weren't that day and that falls back to the administration of Giuliani."
What Riches finds particularly galling is that while police helicopters warned their superiors 20 minutes before the North tower collapsed that they could see the steel bending, firefighters in the North tower never got the word to get out.
Lhota acknowledges that there was no coordinated command structure that day, but said that "each one of the emergency services had their own." He continued, "Did the fire department coordinate with the police department at the time? No. Did they have to? And if they had to, please tell me why?"
Hauer asserts that lives could have been saved that day if there had been a unified command. "I think if there had been one command post in the street, the cops in the street could have heard what the police chief, could have turned to the fire chief and said 'This is what we're hearing from our helicopter and you might want to let your guys know.'"
The unified command structure, or lack of one, was not the only factor that may have made coordination difficult. The command center, located at ground zero, was inoperable that day. All of its state-of-the-art technology was ultimately buried in the collapse, but even a coordinated command couldn't have made the fire department's faulty radios work.
According to Riches, the faulty radios are the Giuliani administration's fault. "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," he said.
But is it unfair to put the horror of what happened on Giuliani's shoulders?
Riches said, "There were a lot of failures by everybody that day. The U.S. had never been put in a position like that. But Rudy Giuliani's now capitalized on 9/11. He's profiting off of 9/11 and he politicized 9/11 by running for president, so I feel it's my cause now to let everybody in America know how totally unprepared we were for 9/11 in New York City."
Lhota, however, disagrees. "I think it's wrong for people to blame Mayor Giuliani for any of the death that happened on that day. 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."
Hauer, however, says that Giuliani was resurrected on 9/11. "On 9/10 Rudy couldn't be elected dogcatcher in this city. He was ready to leave and the city was ready to throw him out."
Lhota disputes this characterization. "I have disagreed with the concept since I first heard it. 9/11 gave the rest of America the opportunity to see what a competent leader is like. Rudy Giuliani is a competent leader. 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."