Giuliani plays with fire

The ex-mayor's campaign is escalating a rift with angry firefighters instead of trying to heal it. That's the Wild Rudy we've been waiting for!

By Joan Walsh

Published July 3, 2007 7:15PM (EDT)

We're starting to get a glimpse of the Rudy Giuliani longtime New Yorkers know and ... shake their heads at: the front-running GOP presidential candidate who never met a fight he didn't want to escalate, whose struggling campaign is now upping the ante in a high-stakes political battle with New York firefighters.

It's got to be hard for Giuliani. Here he is, trying to run for president of 9/11. His only remote qualification for the job is the gratitude so much of the country felt for his leadership that day, when the president was missing in action. And yet so many actual heroes of 9/11 -- people who were there when the towers fell, plus the families of many who died -- hate the former mayor with a fiery passion, and are going to work hard to see that he is never president. Uniformed Firefighters Association president Steve Cassidy told the New York Post this weekend that if Giuliani starts to get "real traction, we will go after him." In Monday's paper Giuliani senior advisor Anthony Carbonetti blasted back, dismissing Cassidy as representing "a few disgruntled union members."

This is getting good. The firefighters have a lot to complain about, from Giuliani's decision to locate the city's emergency command center in the trade center despite the 1993 terror bombing, to his failure to equip them with radios that might have saved lives on 9/11, to his not fighting for adequate healthcare for cops and firefighters who wound up sick after working months on the rescue effort. Sure, Giuliani's people are free to dispute the complaints of Cassidy and his union, but it's silly to go to war with them. Cassidy endorsed Bush in 2004 and campaigned with him in Ohio in the final days of a close campaign. Plus, he's not alone: The larger International Association of Firefighters has also come out against Giuliani.

As Rob Polner wrote in Salon in March, Giuliani's supposed 9/11 credentials could actually be his most glaring vulnerability. As Polner laid it out: "On Sept. 11, the faulty radios were just part of a tableau of dysfunction. Fire Department officials couldn't communicate with police officials, whose helicopters had bird's-eye views of the unstable towers poised to fall. Police and fire communications weren't linked, and no one bothered to set up a unified police-fire command post on the street near the towers, which is Emergency Management 101. Meanwhile, the city's emergency dispatchers fielded a flood of 911 calls from panicked World Trade Center workers and gave out the wrong advice, or just threw up their hands -- 'Do whatever you have to do, Sir.'

"Where was Rudy? He didn't know what to do or where to go because he had put his emergency command center in exactly the wrong place. Against the advice of experts, he had built the emergency command center in the area most likely to be attacked, an area that had already been attacked, the 23rd floor of No. 7 World Trade Center. It was off-limits on the only day it was ever needed."

Of course, I think Giuliani has given opponents a new cudgel that could be even more damaging than his failures on 9/11, by neglecting his Iraq Study Group duties last year so he was forced to resign (meanwhile collecting big paychecks to make speeches about terrorism when the ISG was actually meeting). But in the end, the best weapon against Rudy is very likely Rudy -- and the combative ex-mayor's willingness to escalate a battle with firefighters that he can't win is only the latest example.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

MORE FROM Joan WalshFOLLOW joanwalshLIKE Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections