New York firefighters, including two who lost sons in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, joined other victims' relatives Monday to argue that Rudy Giuliani's character and actions make him unfit to be president.
Members of the group, 9/11 Firefighters and Families, long have been vocal critics of Giuliani's performance as New York mayor, but Monday marked their first trip to another state.
For his part, Giuliani was in Mission, Texas, discussing border security.
"They deserve a legacy of the facts, a true story about what happened to them, our city, and really to our country. That's why we're not going to give up," said a tearful Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son died at the World Trade Center. "We want people to know the truth about Rudy Giuliani running for president as a false hero."
The group accused Giuliani of politicizing the firefighters' deaths by making his post-9/11 leadership the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
Jim Riches, a deputy New York fire chief, and Al Santora, who retired in 2000, said Giuliani ignored recommendations to equip firefighters with radios that would have allowed them to communicate with police and to set up a unified command center so both departments could share decision-making during big emergencies. Both men lost sons at the trade center.
"Lives were lost because of the lack of preparation and (Giuliani's) lack of leadership," said Riches, who spent 16 days in a coma after the attacks due to respiratory failure. "All he did was run that day, and get on TV and provide a calming influence for the United States of America. And they made him a hero."
Howard Safir, who served Giuliani as fire commissioner and later police commissioner, said the group has its facts wrong. He acknowledged some radio failures but said many also worked well.
"Anybody who lost a son or daughter in 9/11 has suffered a tragedy that is immeasurable. People grieve in different ways. Some get very biter, some do positive things," he said.
Safir also said he suspected the International Association of Fire Fighters, which opposes Giuliani's candidacy and has endorsed Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, of pulling the strings.
"There are many, many 9/11 families who lost relatives who are very, very supportive of Rudy and what he did before and after 9/11," Safir said. "It's sad when people get used politically."