It’s no secret Rudy Giuliani is basing his campaign for president on the public’s image of him as Mr. 9-11 Hero. People outside New York know little of the skeletons in his personal closet, which aren’t exactly compatible with a ticket that foghorns family values as the core of its platform.
More important, most people outside New York also don’t know about his real record after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most people that is, except for the Fire Fighters (IAFF) union.
The union this week is holding a legislative conference here in Washington, D.C., with more than 900 members from across the country visiting Capitol Hill to talk with their lawmakers. Tomorrow, the IAFF holds a presidential debate with 10 candidates, both Republican and Democrat. But even though the Fire Fighters invited him, Rudy won’t be there.
See, Rudy did bad by the Fire Fighters. And it’s not in his interest that such information gets out.
After the terrorist planes hit the World Trade Center towers, firefighters were among the first to respond—and 344 of them lost their lives trying to help those stranded in the towers. (Many union members were among the victims, and many more were part of the crucial first response and months-long follow up in New York City and at the Pentagon. More here.)
So what did Giuliani do? In early November 2001, after all his photo ops on national TV were played out, he unilaterally decided to scale back firefighter operations at the site and turn the recovery into what the union calls a "scoop and dump" operation without any input from the two New York local unions, fire commanders, staff chiefs or families of the deceased. The new policy angered and outraged family members and thousands of New York firefighters.
In a March 9, 2007, letter to affiliate unions explaining the situation, Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger writes:
Those on the pile at Ground Zero believed they had just found a spot in the rubble where they would find countless more who could be given proper burial. Nevertheless, Giuliani, with the full support of his Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, decided on Nov. 2, 2001, to sharply reduce the number of those who could search for remains at any one time. There had been as many as 300 fire fighters at a time involved in search and recovery, but Giuliani cut that number to no more than 25 who could be there at once.
Mayor Giuliani’s actions meant that fire fighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like so much garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills Landfill. [Underline and bold face in original.]
Here’s what happened next, according to the IAFF:
By early November, the UFA, the UFOA [IAFF’s two New York affiliates] and the IAFF, with the full support of the grieving families, mounted a campaign to reverse the city's ill-conceived decision. A rally of more than 1,000 UFA and UFOA members, accompanied by widows, drew the attention of the public in New York and across the nation to the injustice, despite a decision made at the highest levels of city government to subvert the event by arresting fire fighters on trumped up charges that have since been dropped. Mayor Giuliani knew that a peaceful demonstration by fire fighters would make him look bad, so he gave the order to break up the march.
So in November 2001, several firefighters were arrested at Ground Zero, the place where these same men and women who, only weeks before had rushed into the nation’s worst inferno. They were charged with criminal trespass.
The bottom line is this: Respect. As Nancy Scola points out at MyDD, when she talked with workers at Resurrection Health Care who are seeking to form a union, the issue of wages wasn’t the biggest factor in their decision to seek a voice at work through unionizing. Patient care was first. Next? Respect at the workplace.
Saying Giuliani and the fire commissioner were robbing the families of fallen fire fighters and other Sept. 11 victims of their dignity, Schaitberger, at the time, called the move:
Rudy really needs this to go away. So over the past few days, a group has emerged calling itself “Fire Fighters for Rudy.” And through the great work over at TPM Cafe, the muckrakers there found out that the executive director of the group, Tim Brown, is none other than an aide to Giuliani. Writes Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe:
…when we asked Brown if he was the executive director of Firefighters for Rudy, he said that he was. When we asked if he was an aide on the campaign, he paused for awhile before saying, "yeah." When we asked him what his title on the campaign was, he said—you guessed it—"executive director of Firefighters for Rudy.”
So we then posed the question of how many members it has. At that point, he said he was going to have "other folks" get back to us.
Aaarrrrghhhh! Frustration. If the executive director of this group doesn't know how many members it has, then who does?
If Giuliani’s attempt at deception and obfuscation weren’t so outrageous, it would be pathetic.
But the sacrifice of the fire fighters and other first-responders didn’t end Sept. 11, 2001.
Last year, a study by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) showed firefighters suffered a significant decline in their lung capacity after working at Ground Zero. In fact, the study found more than 400 chemicals in the toxic World Trade Center air—although then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman assured the public the site was safe in the weeks following 9-11. A year later, it was revealed that just days after the Sept. 11 tragedy, the Bush administration pressured the EPA to tone down reports about the potential health hazards resulting from the buildings’ collapse.
Firefighters aren’t the only workers who need to take a close look at Rudy.
In April 2001, Giuliani vetoed a strong anti-sweatshop bill guaranteeing city workers would not wear uniforms made in sweatshops. Fortunately, with the backing of the New York union movement and its community allies, the New York City Council voted April 25 to override Giuliani's veto. In his tenure as mayor, he cut programs benefiting the homeless, backed for-profit management of public schools despite the shaky record of Edison Schools Inc., which sought the deal and sat on a budget surplus while city employees went two years without a raise.
Schaitberger promises the union will delve more into the relationship between the Fire Fighters and Giuliani, both good and bad aspects.
If there’s more to the story, we want to hear it.
(We’ll be live-blogging the presidential debate at AFL-CIO Now on Wednesday. Stop by if you get a chance.)