Rudy Giuliani was criticised for giving a reading at the 9/11 memorial event yesterday
Rudy Giuliani risked a controversial appearance at Ground Zero in New York yesterday as rival presidential candidates battled over the legacy of the September 11 terror attacks. The Republican presidential contender, hailed as “America’s Mayor” for his leadership during the 2001 attacks that almost buried him, made a brief statement at the sixth anniversary ceremony that critics claimed could give him an unfair boost in his political campaign.
“On that day six years ago and on the days that followed in the midst of our grief and turmoil we also witnessed strength and resilience as a people. It was a day with no answers but with an unending line of those who came forward to help one another,” Mr Giuliani said, before reading a short passage from the Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel.
The former New York Mayor has spoken at the commemoration every year, but his appearance at yesterday’s ceremony provoked a furious reaction from some firemen and victims’ families. They accuse him of trying to exploit the event for political gain in the presidential race, and are angry about their treatment for illnesses that they say resulted from the attacks and prolonged clean-up.
“They should have every other single presidential candidate then, because this is outrageous,” Sally
Regenhard, whose fireman son was killed, complained before the ceremony. “This is going to be seen across the country as a blanket endorsement from us. It is totally inappropriate.”
Mr Giuliani responded: “I was there when it happened and I’ve been there every year since then. If I didn’t, it would be extremely unusual. As a personal matter, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. That’s personal, that’s not political. I will do that for as long as they have a ceremony out there.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, also attended the ceremony but did not speak.
None of the victims’ relatives attending the commemoration made any conspicuous protest against Mr Giuliani’s presence, and many voiced support. “He is here as an American. This is not closed to anybody. There is enough blame to go around,” said John Napolitano Sr, a former police officer who lost his fireman son, John, in the attack. “You have to remember the Clintons were in office for eight years and there were terrorist attacks and we did not take action.”
Lenny Crisci, also a former policeman, who lost his fireman brother, Johnny, said: “Giuliani needs to be here because he was part of this. When Clinton was in office the World Trade Centre was bombed \ and Clinton did not even show up because only six people died.”
It is a measure of the symbolism of 9/11 in the 2008 presidential campaign that leading candidates in both parties hail from New York, which was long considered to be outside the mainstream of American politics.
Mr Giuliani insists that he is not running for the presidency based on his record during 9/11, but he has made the attacks a theme of his campaign – and is therefore particularly vulnerable to criticism. He got into trouble this summer, however, by suggesting that he had been “exposed to exactly the same things” as the firemen who claim they are suffering from respiratory ailments because of toxins at the burning site.
The New York Times did a detailed analysis of Mr Giuliani’s presence at Ground Zero – excluding the chaotic first six days after the attack – and found he had spent 29 hours there from September 17, 2001, to December 16, 2001, while rescue workers were routinely working 12-hour shifts.
On the campaign trail with his wife in recent weeks, former President Bill Clinton has taken aim at Mr Giuliani by criticising the treatment of firemen who suffered respiratory ailments after 9/11. The strategy is seen as an effort by Mrs Clinton to knock Mr Giuliani off his 9/11 pedestal.