Nov. 17, 2007 — -- A group of 9/11 firefighters and victims' family members with eyes on derailing Republican Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign is close to a decision on forming an entity that would run issue ads in key early nominating states.
"TV made him a hero, and we'll use TV to take him down," New York Fire Chief Jim Riches told ABC News.
The final decision about the formation of an outside entity will happen sometime within the next few weeks after the group finalizes its plans at a meeting scheduled for after Thanksgiving. So far, though, under Riches' leadership, the group has sought legal guidance and help from political consultants.
If the group decides to move forward, it would set up a 527 committee -- or something similar to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which in 2004 helped sink Democratic Sen. John Kerry's White House bid.
This Monday, the firefighters and family members are holding a meeting at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire hoping to spread the word about what they say is Giuliani's "egregious" use of 9/11 for political gain.
The group also is considering additional trips to early presidential primary states Iowa, Florida and South Carolina.
Riches, who lost his firefighter son Jimmy in the World Trade Center's north tower, said, "We don't want him running on 9/11 or the bodies of all these dead people or my dead son saying that he did a great job that day."
He and other members of the anti-Giuliani group claim 9/11 first responders were given bad radios and that that prevented them from hearing evacuation orders when the World Trade Center buildings were about to collapse. They also contend Giuliani rushed cleanup work and misled people about air quality at Ground Zero, where recovery workers, including Riches, say they contracted illnesses.
Asked to comment for this story, the Giuliani campaign referred ABC News to a statement from Lee Ielpi, another firefighter whose son died on Sept. 11.
"I understand the emotion surrounding Sept. 11, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was the terrorists who attacked New York City," the statement said. "On that day and the days following, New Yorkers and the rest of the country were fortunate to have the steady and strong leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani."
Like Ielpi, there are numerous firefighters and 9/11 family members who don't agree with the criticism leveled against Giuliani for his handling of the terrorist attack. They instead laud Giuliani for his leadership and resolve during the crisis. The Giuliani campaign has a team of "First Responders for Rudy" across the country who vouch for the mayor.
Claims that Giuliani has exploited and misled people about his 9/11 record are not new. A major union representing firefighters, The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), released a 13-minute film this summer focusing on what it describes as "failures" by Giuliani before, during and after 9/11. Chief Riches was featured in the union's video.
The IAFF has had ties to the Democratic Party. It has endorsed Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd's 2008 presidential campaign and supported Sen. Kerry in 2004.
Comments Giuliani made back in August, in which he told reporters in Cincinnati that he was at Ground Zero "as often, if not more, than most of the workers," infuriated some 9/11 recovery workers. On that issue, Riches told ABC News Giuliani "was at Yankee Stadium more than he was down at Ground Zero." Giuliani later admitted he could have better articulated what he meant.
It is unclear what effect, if any, Riches and his group will have on the widely held perception that Giuliani is a hero of 9/11. But an issue ad campaign like the one they are contemplating would target what is believed to be one of Giuliani's greatest strengths -- that he is a proven leader who is strong on national security.
As a 527 entity, the group would be able to raise millions dollars from both low-dollar and large donors, seemingly enough money to run numerous ads.
The criticism of Giuliani doesn't seem to have changed his standing in the Republican presidential contest or his image overall. He's still widely admired by much of the country. Despite holding liberal views on abortion, guns and gay rights, polls still show the former mayor atop the GOP presidential field.