HANOVER, N.H. — With the New Hampshire presidential primary now seven weeks away, a New York group whose members lost relatives in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 tried to dent Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani's image as "America's Mayor" Monday night, saying he failed to prepare the city to deal with a major disaster in the years before the attack.
Speaking at a Dartmouth College town hall meeting, the 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters said Giuliani failed to update inadequate firefighter communications equipment, which first experienced serious problems during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and placed New York's high-tech emergency command center in one of the towers that was destroyed on Sept. 11, instead of in a low-profile area in Brooklyn.
The New Yorkers told the small audience in the Dartmouth auditorium that Giuliani's campaign is falsely trumpeting his credentials as a leader on homeland security and terrorism issues.
"The lack of preparedness, coordination and leadership were contributing factors in many of the unnecessary deaths on 9-11," said Sally Reganhard, whose firefighter son, Christian Reganhard, was killed at the World Trade Center. "We understand and condemn that the terrorists took this deadly event and started it. But we want you to know that the failures of the Giuliani administration to protect the first responders and protect the people of the city of New York sealed the fate of my son..."
Norman Siegel, an organizer of the 9-11 group and a former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the purpose of the town hall was to counter the Giuliani campaign's narrative of the former mayor's handling of the Sept. 11 catastrophe.
"We're not individually or as a group endorsing any candidate," Siegel said. "We're here to set the record straight about what happened on 9-11."
Monday's town hall took place as Giuliani's campaign launched a 30-second television ad in New Hampshire that extols the former mayor's management skills. In the ad, titled "Leadership," Giuliani says in a voiceover that he has "the most leadership experience of anyone that's running" for president.
Giuliani leads a crowded Republican presidential field in most national polls, but he trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire in statewide surveys.
"I've been tested in a way in which the American people can look to me," he says in the ad. "They're not going to find perfection, but they're going to find somebody who has dealt with crisis almost on a regular basis and has had results. And in many cases, exceptional results."
Al Santora disagrees. A former deputy chief of safety for the New York fire department, Santora said Giuliani failed to heed reports calling for the replacement of firefighters' radios, which proved to be inadequate during the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
Santora and other 9-11 group members said the defective radios contributed to the deaths of 123 firefighters on Sept. 11 because they didn't hear the command to evacuate the center's North Tower before it collapsed.
"He had eight years to do something; he had reports that there was a problem," Santora said. "The administration turned a deaf ear, a blind eye. We were let down. The firefighters were let down."
Jimmy Riches, a deputy fire chief whose firefighter son, Jimmy Riches Jr., died at the World Trade Center, blasted Giuliani for placing the city's $13 million emergency command center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the attack.
Giuliani has said that he put the center there on the advice of Jerome Hauer, his former emergency chief, and because federal law enforcement agencies were headquartered there.
Hauer maintains that he suggested placing the emergency center in Brooklyn.
"He picked a site where the terrorists attacked before and swore they would attack again," Riches said.
Howard Safir, who served as New York City's fire and police commissioner under Giuliani, dismissed the group's criticism.
"It's unconscionable that a front group for the highly partisan IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) is now turning the terrorist attacks of September 11th into a political football," Safir said in a statement. "I understand the emotion surrounding this day, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was the terrorists who attacked New York City."