Giuliani Challenged on Trail
By: Wall Street Journal
Campaign Dogged By Ex-Firefighter Who Lost a Son
By BRODY MULLINS
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Presidential campaigns and interest groups have spent millions of dollars on television advertisements telling people how to vote here tomorrow.
And then there is Jim Riches.
A former New York City firefighter whose son, also a firefighter, died on duty in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Riches is running a shoestring campaign to defeat Rudy Giuliani in tomorrow’s Florida Republican primary. Mr. Riches’s method: telling voters that the candidate is no hero to the city’s firefighters — challenging one of the central tenets of the Giuliani candidacy.
Mr. Riches’s expenses are covered by the pro-Democrat International Association of Firefighters, a national union that draws some of its members from the New York City Fire Department. A gruff, oversize man with a colorful personality and thick Brooklyn accent, Mr. Riches, 56 years old, was a deputy chief in the fire department until his retirement in December.
Mr. Riches says Mr. Giuliani didn’t properly prepare for a terrorist attack and says firefighters’ radios didn’t work on Sept. 11, and he holds Mr. Giuliani responsible.
Without enough money for television commercials, Mr. Riches relies on the local media to deliver his emotional message to voters here. He has succeeded in landing on nearly a dozen local news shows and in a handful of local papers in the past week.
During interviews, Mr. Riches holds a black-bordered picture of his son, in uniform, to his chest. “So when you hear him talk about how he helped your city, what goes through your mind?” asks Claudine Caro, a reporter with Telemundo in Miami. “I’m outraged,” he says.
It is a difficult time for the Giuliani campaign. Mr. Giuliani hasn’t won a primary contest, and polls show him generally running a distant third in Florida.
When reporters ask the campaign questions about Mr. Riches’s accusations, the campaign arranges interviews with former firefighters who support Mr. Giuliani and are now traveling on his bus in Florida. One of them, former New York City firefighter Paul Iannizzotto, says “there’s a lot of emotion with the firemen. I understand their passion, and they want to blame someone.”
Mr. Iannizzotto, who was on the scene on 9/11, says Mr. Giuliani did plenty to prepare for terrorist attacks and provided the firefighters with all the radios, equipment and respirators they needed to respond and recover. “My radio was working and I’m here to prove it.”
Mr. Riches was off duty Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard that the towers had been hit. Knowing his son was in the North Tower, he raced toward lower Manhattan. The tower fell as he made his way across the Brooklyn Bridge. His son died one day before his 30th birthday.
Mr. Riches searched for the body for months. He and his three remaining sons, all firefighters, located the remains six months after the attacks.
Mr. Riches blames Mr. Giuliani and bristles when the campaign uses 9/11 imagery and “FDNY” logos to portray Mr. Giuliani as a champion of the firefighters.
The International Association of Firefighters estimates that it will spend $38,000 for Mr. Riches and several other people to travel here for the 10 days preceding the primary, according to forms filed with the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Riches says he hasn’t yet submitted his bills for reimbursement by the union, but expects the tab not to exceed $5,000. Most of the bills are for one-way flights, rental cars and overnight hotel stays. The union spent another $100,000 for anti-Giuliani posters and mailings to inform Florida voters that some New York City firefighters oppose Giuliani.
Mr. Riches travels around Florida in a rented, neon-blue PT Cruiser, showing up at campaign events with bright yellow signs reading “Firemen Against Giuliani.” When Mr. Giuliani’s bus arrived at a campaign rally in Miami Friday, Mr. Riches and his colleagues yelled “Shame on Rudy! Shame on Rudy!” as he stepped off the bus and walked inside.
An hour later, when the candidate departed, the campaign bus tried to drown out the chants by playing loud music over loudspeakers on the roof.
As soon as the bus left, a dozen local reporters who had been covering the event hustled over to the firefighters. Mr. Riches gave an impromptu news conference.
Mr. Riches and a small group of firefighters drove to New Hampshire, paying their own expenses, and told people not to vote for Mr. Giuliani. When Mr. Giuliani focused his efforts almost entirely on Florida, Mr. Riches decided to follow him, asking the national union to cover the expenses.
On the morning of the Republican debate in Boca Raton last week, Mr. Riches drove to the debate site 12 hours early to scope out a good place to catch the media. Mr. Riches returned eight hours before the debate to secure his turf. “Our strategy is to go find a good spot and be seen by the media,” he explains.
“TV made Rudy a hero that day,” says Mr. Riches. “For me, I say that my son died that day, and the media starts listening,” he explains. “It’s almost a script out of Hollywood.”
Write to Brody Mullins at email@example.com
* Content From the Wall Street Journal supplied by Elva Ramirez:
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