Presidential Hopefuls Visit Firefighters' Conference

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Americans have gained a new appreciation for the job firefighters do every day.

At the annual convention of the nation's largest firefighters union in Washington, the profession was honored by a parade of 2008 presidential hopefuls. Eleven candidates, and possible candidates — representing each party came looking for support.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference drew visits from, among others, Democrats John Edwards; Joe Biden; Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton; Chris Dodd; Bill Richardson; and from Republicans Duncan Hunter; Chuck Hagel; and John McCain.

The International Association of Firefighters has some 280,000 members, at firehouses large and small across the country.

Among the notable no-shows at the event were Republicans Mitt Romney, who had a scheduling conflict, and Rudy Giuliani. Like the firefighters, he is considered a hero of the Sept. 11 attacks. But there is ongoing bitterness between the former New York mayor and firefighters over that event.

Union President Harold Shaitberger says it stems from Giuliani's decision to cease rescue operations in November of 2001, and to block firefighters from Ground Zero. Some were arrested.

"We have very very strong feelings about the conduct and decisions Mayor Giuliani made following the horrific attack on 911," Shaitberger said.

Eventually an invite was offered to Giuliani. At first he said yes, but he later demurred.

Still, this union which has never endorsed a Republican for president, said that while it is keeping its options on which candidate — and which party — to endorse, its top official says it's certain that Giuliani will not be its choice.

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