Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The political arm of a powerful national firefighters union is jumping back into the presidential campaign by paying for one outspoken former firefighter to protest at former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s campaign events in Florida.

Just weeks after the International Association of Fire Fighters saw its favored candidate, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, drop out of the race, the union’s well-heeled political action committee — with more than $1.2 million in cash on hand — now is aiming to derail Mr. Giuliani’s presidential aspirations.

Union President Harold Schaitberger says the group also plans to send “several hundred thousand” pieces of mail to voters in Florida outlining the group’s opposition to Mr. Giuliani.

The strategy means an unwelcome distraction for Mr. Giuliani in a potentially make-or-break Florida primary, after he chose not to compete in earlier contests.

Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella yesterday called the union “partisan” and said it has made “little or no impact” in Florida. She also questioned whether the group would begin a mailing campaign so close to the Jan. 29 Florida primary.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the union’s political arm recently paid more than $11,000 in travel costs for Jim Riches, a Giuliani critic and recently retired New York City fire deputy. He has been traveling across Florida protesting Mr. Giuliani at campaign events.

“This is very unusual for us,” Mr. Schaitberger said of the anti-Giuliani expenditures. “If you take a look at our history, we support and advocate for a candidate and don’t spend a lot of time and effort going after candidates. But this is an exception.”

The union has criticized Mr. Giuliani by saying, among other things, that his administration failed to provide proper radio equipment for firefighters who arrived at the World Trade Center.

But the former mayor’s campaign has sharply disputed the accusations and last year once dubbed the union the “International Association of Partisan Politics.”

“What little noise they have generated has generally fallen on deaf ears,” Ms. Comella said. “This is a partisan organization that in the past has endorsed Democrats for president.”

In a phone interview yesterday, Mr. Riches, whose firefighter son perished in the September 11 attacks, said he is following Mr. Giuliani’s campaign bus in Florida to “set the record straight.” Plans include bringing a giant inflatable rat to a campaign event this week, he said.

Mr. Schaitberger said the union has no immediate plans for endorsing a new candidate in light of Mr. Dodd’s early exit.

“Certainly after New Hampshire, a lot of the campaigns were reaching out to us and wanted us to consider our next step,” he said. “But we’re not going to be pushed by any artificial timelines.”

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