- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

NEW YORK — President Bush arrived at the Republican National Convention last night after being endorsed by New York firefighters who praised his handling of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Your leadership and compassion sustained us during our darkest hour,” said Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.

“Your post-September 11th policies have strengthened our nation by taking the war to the terrorists,” added Mr. Cassidy, who hosted the president at an Italian social club in Queens.

The union represents more than 20,000 active and retired firefighters, many of whom witnessed the president’s emotional visit to ground zero on Sept. 14, 2001. Standing that day atop a crumpled firetruck with retired fireman Bob Beckwith, Mr. Bush vowed to punish the perpetrators.

It became the most enduring image of his presidency and made a particularly strong impression on the New York City Fire Department, which lost 343 firefighters in the attacks.

Before arriving yesterday in New York, where he formally will accept his party’s nomination for the presidency in a major speech tonight, Mr. Bush previewed his acceptance speech during a visit to Ohio.

“Tomorrow night, I’m going to talk about how this world of ours is changing,” he told 20,000 cheering supporters at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. “And government must change with the changing world to make people’s lives easier, to give people the chance, the ability to realize the full promise of tomorrow.

“Changing times are difficult times,” he added. “And one way to help add security to people’s lives during changing times is to promote an ownership society.”

Mr. Bush said he wants more Americans to own health care accounts that can be transferred from job to job. He also wants to let younger workers put some of their Social Security taxes into personal savings accounts.

Sen. John Kerry’s campaign quickly disparaged the president’s remarks.

“How can George Bush talk about an ownership society when he refuses to own up to his record?” said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer. “On every single issue that he spoke about today, George Bush’s record is the opposite of what he said. He hasn’t created a single new job, 5 million more people have lost health insurance, and family incomes have dropped three years in a row.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush will defend his record in tonight’s speech.

“He’ll talk about how we’ve been through a lot over the last four years,” he told reporters. “Because of the leadership that he’s provided, we’ve risen to meet the challenges.”

In a departure from convention precedent, Mr. Bush’s acceptance address will be delivered “in the round,” with the president speaking from a floor platform set amid delegates in the center of Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Bush spent two hours yesterday honing and practicing tonight’s speech, which aides said will be evenly divided between foreign policy and domestic issues. He joked that the bar of expectations was raised by first lady Laura Bush’s speech to the convention on Tuesday.

Aides said Mr. Bush would talk about the “transformational power of liberty” and the “importance of spreading freedom” to secure America. He will argue that the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan are making the Middle East and the wider world safer.

As for domestic policy, Mr. Bush is expected to announce new initiatives on education and health care.

The president clearly relished last night’s visit to the Italian Charities of America hall in Elmhurst. He was warmly welcomed by about 100 firefighters.

By picking up the endorsement of the union that represents New York’s uniformed firefighters, including 8,600 who are currently employed, Mr. Bush hoped to blunt the effect of other firefighter unions endorsing Mr. Kerry. The Massachusetts Democrat has been endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters, as well as a union representing New York’s 2,900 fire captains, lieutenants and other officers.

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