- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry yesterday accused President Bush of playing politics with the September 11 terrorist attacks, telling a firefighters union that Mr. Bush has used homeland security as a “political prop.”

“When it comes to protecting America from terrorism, this administration is big on bluster and they’re short on action,” the Massachusetts senator said. “But as we saw again last week in Spain, real action is what we need. The Bush administration is tinkering while the clock on homeland security is ticking.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry was endorsed yesterday by another Democratic presidential candidate, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who took the unique step of offering his support even while officially continuing to challenge Mr. Kerry for the nomination. The endorsement came after Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Sharpton.

“It would be misleading and futile to campaign for the nomination, but it continues for the platform and direction of the party,” Mr. Sharpton told the Associated Press. “My campaign continues now to pick up delegates so that we can go to the convention to coalesce with other delegates.”

Mr. Kerry is poised in today’s primaries to win the required number of delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer, thus securing his position as the nominee.

Yesterday, he issued a broad challenge of the administration’s record on homeland security.

“America doesn’t need leaders who play politics with 9/11 or see the war on terror as just another campaign issue. Our nation’s safety is too important,” he said. “If I am president, we will work toward victory in the war on terror, knowing that those on the front lines of this battle are heroes, not political props.”

The International Association of Fire Fighters was the first major union to endorse Mr. Kerry, in September, and has been among his staunchest supporters, along with a dedicated group of Vietnam veterans.

Both groups have been rewarded with frequent mentions in Mr. Kerry’s speeches, and Mr. Kerry has promised as president to hire 100,000 firefighters.

A senior Bush campaign official expressed incredulity at Mr. Kerry’s remarks yesterday.

“If there’s ever a speech that deserves the gall-of-the-year-award, this is it,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You’ve got a guy whose entire record and whose entire approach is completely at odds with the speech he just gave in Washington.”

As evidence, the official pointed out that Mr. Kerry has called the threat of terrorism “exaggerated” and considers it more of a criminal and intelligence matter than a war. The Massachusetts Democrat also bowed to union bosses on work rules during the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

The official said that although Mr. Kerry is enjoying the support of firefighter union leadership, the president is backed by many rank-and-file firefighters.

“We’re going to have a lot of firemen who come out and endorse us, and you’ll see that in a big way. We’re already talking to them,” the official said. “Obviously, today at their conference is not the best time to be rolling them out.”

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