One of the nation's largest firefighters' unions has accused Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, of committing "egregious acts" against firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, in a draft letter, excoriated Giuliani for his November 2001 decision to cut back the number of firefighters searching the rubble of Ground Zero for the remains of some 300 fallen comrades.
The 280,000-member union accused him of expediting the clean-up process with a "scoop-and-dump" operation after the recovery of millions of dollars in gold, silver and other assets from the Bank of Nova Scotia that had been buried.
The union has long assailed the former mayor, but the latest criticism comes as several polls put Giuliani ahead by wide margins in the GOP nomination race.
The letter prompted the Giuliani campaign to counter with its own letter from Lee Ielpi, a retired New York firefighter.
"There is no one who respects firefighters and first responders more than Rudy Giuliani," Ielpi wrote.
Giuliani's campaign distributed Ielpi's letter on Friday and announced the support of nearly 100 South Carolina firefighters as it sought to blunt the impact of the criticism.
The union's latest broadside was included in a scathing letter dated Feb. 28. Union officials say the letter was drafted as leaders were weighing whether to invite Giuliani to a presidential candidate forum but never was distributed to members because the union ultimately invited Giuliani.
"We were inviting all the candidates and excluding one because of something that he had done and not excluding others would have been disingenuous so we decided to invite Rudy," said Jeff Zack, a union spokesman. Giuliani, however, declined the invitation to next week's forum, citing scheduling conflicts.
Nevertheless, the letter showed up on Web sites this week.
"The disrespect that he exhibited to our 343 fallen FDNY brothers, their families and our New York City IAFF leadership in the wake of that tragic day has not been forgiven or forgotten," the letter says.
"Mayor Giuliani's actions meant that firefighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills Landfill," it said, adding: "Hundreds remained entombed in Ground Zero when Giuliani gave up on them."
Letter 'offensive and inaccurate'
The union said the purpose of the letter was "to make all our members aware of the egregious acts Mayor Giuliani committed against our members, our fallen on 9/11 and our New York City union officers following that horrific day."
Ielpi, for his part, said he was "deeply disappointed and disheartened" by the union's recent political activities and called the letter offensive and inaccurate.
"Those of use who have worked with him know that Rudy Giuliani has always been a steadfast and unrelenting supporter of firefighters and first responders," Ielpi said in the statement.
Tim Brown, a former firefighter and Executive Director of Firefighters for Rudy, added: "We are honored by the support of so many first responders from across the country and are appreciative of their continued enthusiasm for Mayor Giuliani's candidacy."
The union says it's bipartisan. It endorsed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
At least 10 Republican and Democratic candidates plan to attend Wednesday's forum, including Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards. On the Republican side, the only top tier candidate who has committed is GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also was invited.