Pure Horserace: Rudy's Two-Alarm Fire?

Tip O'Neill famously observed, "all politics is local," and strategists like Karl Rove have demonstrated in recent elections that attacking the political strengths of your opponents can be a highly effective tactic. Today, Rudy Giuliani finds himself caught on the wrong side of both philosophies.

The ongoing tension between the former New York City mayor and a number of firefighters from the Big Apple is spilling onto the Internet thanks to a new documentary being released later today. The 13-minute video, produced by the International Association of Firefighters, is a highly critical response to one of Giuliani's most important strengths — his performance on and around 9/11. It will debut this evening at a new Web site, Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend.

The images and words of the Mayor during and after the attacks earned him the title of "America's Mayor," made him one of the most popular figures in American politics over the past six years and helped catapult him into the top tier of the Republican presidential race. But long-simmering tensions between some firefighters and Giuliani are threatening that strength.

The IAFF video repeats criticisms of Giuliani's handling of the city's emergency responders that have been leveled at the mayor in the past. The video uses firefighters and others directly touched by the events of 9/11 to rehash some old gripes about the mayor's performance — that radio communication that failed during the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was never reliably fixed prior to 9/11, Giuliani's decision to scale back search efforts for fallen firefighters and his post-1993 decision to establish a command and control center in the one location, which had already been the target of a terrorist attack.

There is one charge leveled in the video which may be unfamiliar to many who have followed this spat. The documentary claims that once some $200 million in gold bars (belonging to the Bank of Nova Scotia) had been recovered from the rubble, the order was suddenly given to remove firefighters from their efforts to recover the remains of fallen colleagues. It was a decision that has been among the most emotional of the disputes between some firefighters and the mayor. Giuliani and his supporters have long cited health and safety reasons for the decision but this video charges the mayor with being concerned more about recovering the gold than the remains of firefighters.

The Giuliani campaign points to support among many firefighters in New York and around the country, and this afternoon responded to the IAFF with a research briefing titled, "International Association of Partisan Politics," which charged leaders of the umbrella union group of attacking a Republican candidate and listed the group's past support for Democratic presidential candidates. The IAFF was an early backer of John Kerry in the 2004 campaign and has often endorsed Democrats in the past. Retired N.Y. firefighter Lee Ielpi, who lost his son on 9/11, has been a Giuliani supporter and is quoted in today's release saying, "It's unfortunate but not surprising that the IAFF union bosses have once again taken the low road in a move clearly out of step with their membership. In 2008, I expect these same union bosses to endorse Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, so today's comments are just a first step in that process."

But the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York local 94, part of the IAFF, also endorsed Giuliani in both his mayoral bids, according to an IAFF spokesman. And Steve Cassidy, head of that group, backed President Bush's re-election in 2004 and campaigned on his behalf in the crucial state of Ohio that year. Cassidy appears throughout the IAFF video to proclaim that "the image of Rudy Giuliani as America's mayor is a myth."

The sniping has gone on for months. Earlier this year, the IAFF held a candidate forum in Washington that was attended by all the Democratic candidates and some Republicans, most notably John McCain. According to reports at the time, Giuliani was originally not offered an invitation then opted out when one was extended.

The IAFF says today's video is meant to educate its members about Giuliani's "real record" on 9/11. Still, its release on the Internet hints at a broadening effort to spread their dim assessment of the Mayor and has already drawn comparisons with the campaign by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry in 2004. It's not at that level yet, but we're sure to hear a lot more about these issues in the coming months. — Vaughn Ververs


Courting Another Key Voting Bloc: Last month, all the Democratic presidential candidates participated in a debate that focused on issues faced by black voters, one of the party's most loyal voting blocs. Now, it appears another group traditionally associated with the Democratic Party — the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community — will also get to hear Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others discuss issues facing them.

Obama and Clinton have both agreed to participate in a Aug. 9 forum in Los Angeles sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign — the New York Post reports that John Edwards will also be in attendance, while Bill Richardson hasn't made up his mind. Some of the questions they will face may be easy to predict, as all the top candidates have had recent events — not all of them positive — highlight their stances on gay rights.

For Clinton, the event will give her an opportunity to further distance herself from the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military that was instituted by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, early in his first term. In a recent Democratic debate, Sen. Clinton said the policy should be scrapped, allowing gays to serve openly.

Unlike Clinton, Obama's most recent encounter with the LGBT community wasn't over policy — it was over dinner. In June, Obama held a contest in which four small-money donors were picked to have dinner with the Illinois senator. But as the Associated Press reports, one of the winners, Florida firefighter Jennifer Lasko, dropped out at the last minute after local media reported she had previously undergone a sex change. Though Obama's campaign urged Lasko to still attend, she did not change her mind.

While Clinton and Obama's reputation among gay and lesbian voters may have been helped by those incidents, Edwards and Richardson may face more scrutiny at the forum. Edwards came under fire after an excerpt from former Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum's book had Edwards saying "I'm not comfortable around those people" when asked about his views on gay rights. Edwards' campaign has denied the exchange ever happened. As for Richardson, if he decides to attend he will probably be asked about his use of a Spanish-language slur for homosexuals — according to gaynewswatch.com, Richardson recently apologized for his use of the word, even though it happened over a year ago on Don Imus' now-defunct radio show.

Of course, all of these questions might be a sideshow compared to those about how the candidates can oppose gay marriage, support civil unions, and oppose a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage all at the same time — another potential pitfall for Edwards, whose wife, Elizabeth, says she supports gay marriage. It's a delicate position that many Democrats have adopted, but could be seen as equivocation by the forum's audience. — David Miller


Direct Democracy: Candidates tend to form their policies behind the scenes after extensive meetings with aides, advisers and interest groups, but Barack Obama's latest proposal for veterans has a somewhat different origin — it came from the crowd at one of his campaign rallies.

The Des Moines Register reports that when Army veteran John Strong suggested at an Obama event that time limits on educational benefits given to soldiers be withdrawn, Obama was so taken with the idea that he immediately asked his Senate staff to figure out the costs of such a proposal. Under current law, educational benefits for veterans expire 10 to 12 years after they leave active duty — Strong, an unemployed senior citizen, says that has left some former servicemen in a lurch when they're laid off from longtime jobs and don't have the education required for a new job in today's market.

Obama still faces some criticism that his proposals aren't specific enough, but maybe he won't have to worry about that much longer if more people like Strong are backing him. — David Miller


An Implausible Promise? Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson's bid for the GOP nomination has gone mostly unnoticed, but that could change if he keeps making promises like the one he made Tuesday: curing breast cancer.

On a campaign swing through Iowa, Thompson promised to eliminate breast cancer in the United States by 2015. "I am committed to deploying the vast resources of the United States toward the goal of ending breast cancer by 2015 just like President Kennedy committed our nation to the moon," he said. "We'll start with breast cancer and then attack every major cancer, one after the other. There's no candidate in either party more prepared and more motivated to lead this effort than me."

A desperate measure by a desperate candidate, or a well-thought out policy by a former Health and Human Services secretary? We can't say for sure, but this item is proof that it did succeed in drawing attention to the other Thompson in the race. — David Miller


A Rodham By Any Other Name ... The Democratic front-runner's name has seen plenty of permutations over the years: Hillary Clinton when her husband was running for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was first lady and a New York senator, and now, as a presidential candidate, sometimes she's just Hillary. Do voters care? Not really, says CBS News' director of surveys Kathy Frankovic in the latest installment of Poll Positions. In fact, a clear majority of voters think she's qualified to serve as president, even if not all of them would vote for her. To learn more about how Clinton, in her various incarnations, has fared in polls over the years, read this week's column.


Editor's note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.
By Vaughn Ververs and David Miller
  • David Miller

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