The Firefighters and Rudy Giuliani | Harper's Magazine

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The Firefighters and Rudy Giuliani


I’m puzzled sometimes about how the vacuous chattering class of commentators form their political views. Do they come prepackaged and delivered by K Street lobbyists? A good example might be the marketing of Rudy Giuliani. “This man owns 9/11” says MSNBC’s Chris Matthews? True most New Yorkers formed a positive view of Rudy’s performance on 9/11. but that was always mixed with a lot of questions about his management style and interaction, especially with the firefighters and police who did the brunt of the work.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a significant article taking a closer look at how Rudy Giuliani interacted with the first responders, and what they think of Rudy the presidential candidate. Somehow, I think the Giuliani campaign is going to have long-term troubles with this.

Interviews with more than 50 firefighters and department officers show a mix of admiration and disdain for the former mayor. Many firefighters praise his years in office, citing his success in reducing crime and his leadership after the terrorist attacks. Others harbor a resentment for what they describe as his poor treatment of the department before and after Sept. 11.

Some still speak bitterly about a contract that left firefighters without a raise for two years. Some also say Mr. Giuliani has exaggerated the role he played after the terrorist attacks, casting himself as a hero for political gain. The harshest sentiments stem from Mr. Giuliani’s decision nearly two months after 9/11 to reduce the number of firefighters who were allowed to search for colleagues in the rubble — a move that he partially reversed but that still infuriates many firefighters.

As his candidacy proceeds, Mr. Giuliani’s work on and after Sept. 11, his greatest strength in the eyes of many voters, will be scrutinized. The firefighters’ interviews indicate that in New York, at least, a critical evaluation has begun.

“I think they assume that we all love him,” said Robert Keys, 48, a battalion chief and 25-year department veteran, referring to people outside New York. “He wound up with this ‘America’s Mayor’ image. Those of us who had to deal with him before and after 9/11 don’t share that same sentiment.”

“He probably assumes that we think he’s great,” says another. But the knocks on Rudy are pretty consistent. They make him out to be a lot like George W. Bush in terms of temperament and management style, but minus the charm and grace.

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