Is the Clinton campaign trying to supplant Rudy Giuliani on the Sept. 11 pedestal?
Listening to Bill Clinton introduce Hillary Clinton during a campaign sweep through New Hampshire and Iowa this Labor Day weekend, it sure sounded that way. The Clinton campaign apparently wants a part of the Sept. 11 storyline, and the piece they have chosen just happens to be about air quality, the sorest spot for Mr. Giuliani.
Somehow, this doesn’t seem like an accident.
Talking at a Concord, N.H., rally on Sept. 2 about a caddy who recently detained him on a putting green, Mr. Clinton paraphrased the caddy as having told him, “‘In my real life, I am a captain in the New York City Fire Department.’ He said, ‘On 9/11, that terrible day, when we went down there to do our duty, and some of us were dying and breathing all that stuff, your wife knew immediately—immediately—that many of us would get sick and some of us would die because of what we breathed doing our duty on that day and the days after.’”
Mr. Clinton bit his lip. “‘And she began to fight for us on that day and she never stopped. And when the government denied repeatedly for months and months and months, over a year, that anything could possibly happen to us because of what we breathed that day, she just kept standing up for us. And what I want you to know is that some of us who would have died lived because of her fight. And those who died, their families can live in greater dignity because she fought for them. Now most of us firefighters, we thought that we were Republicans, we like to elect tough talk and everything, but when the chips were down, she was there.”
Mr. Clinton mentioned that the caddy-firefighter is the son of an Irish immigrant who settled in Staten Island. He was describing the prototypical Rudy Giuliani voter.
The Clinton campaign insists the story is not intended as an attack on Mr. Giuliani, but they acknowledge, happily, that the story points to one of the former mayor’s vulnerabilities.
“It’s a story that’s important that says a lot about the way Hillary stepped in after 9/11 and continues to fight for those people,” said a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton about Mr. Clinton’s anecdote. “And I don’t think it is meant to say anything about Rudy Giuliani, but he clearly has some real liabilities in that area.”
Some Clinton staffers have said that the firefighter has offered his services for a commercial, but the senior adviser said that the campaign is not currently considering producing a spot. The adviser did say, however, that “New Yorkers who have these experiences with Hillary tell a very powerful story, so you never know.”
Mr. Clinton has been sharing the story of that June encounter on the golf course since at least July, but it has only recently become a key component of his rhetoric on the stump. On the Labor Day weekend, it was the emotional segue into Mrs. Clinton’s new and much-scrutinized stump speech, which addresses the themes that her strategists hope will win her the Democratic nomination. (Blue signs flanking her on the podium bluntly read “Experience + Change.”)
Not only does the testimony bolster Mrs. Clinton’s painstakingly accrued credibility on security issues, but it also serves to raise what has emerged as an irritant for Mr. Giuliani: accusations, in some cases by former Ground Zero workers themselves, that the former mayor prematurely declared the air safe around Ground Zero.
The air quality issue has been a recurring plague for the campaign in recent months.
In May, a firefighter who developed cancer after working on Ground Zero told a reporter outside a Republican event in a midtown Manhattan restaurant that Mr. Giuliani had failed to alert first responders to the health risks at Ground Zero. The remarks received national coverage.
In June, the Giuliani campaign rushed to stamp out a conflagration started by former Bush administration Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Whitman when she said the former mayor blocked her efforts to make Ground Zero responders wear respirators.
In July, the president of the New York-based Uniformed Firefighters Association vowed to fight against Mr. Giuliani’s campaign, saying that the former mayor’s assurances that the air was safe after Sept. 11 caused many firefighters to ultimately suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. And in August, an announcement that Mr. Giuliani would participate in this year’s commemoration of the attacks—he has taken part each year since 2001—prompted more firefighter protests. (Mrs. Clinton will also attend this year’s event.)