Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign was supposed to be toast by now, imploded by his hot temper, autocratic ways, tumultuous personal life and moderate views on social issues, which would turn off traditional Republican voters once they got to know the "Real Rudy."
That's what many of Giuliani's critics thought.
Instead, he remains on top of the Republican presidential pack in national polls, powered in large part by his image as the steely hero who guided the city through the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
A small but vocal group of New Yorkers will try to puncture that image Monday by holding a town hall meeting at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College to discuss the city'sdisaster-preparedness under Giuliani before Sept. 11.
They say that Giuliani's administration failed to deal with firefighters' radio communication problems, which first surfaced in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; didn't provide proper equipment for rescue workers at ground zero; and showed poor judgment by putting the city's $13 million emergency center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the attack.
They claim that Giuliani was callous in November 2001 when he limited the number of firefighters searching ground zero for the remains of nearly 300 fallen comrades. They also accuse him of expediting the cleanup of the site and sending rubble mixed with human body parts to a Staten Island landfill.
"He's portraying himself as a false hero of 9/1 1," said Sally Reganhard, whose son, Christian, was a probationary firefighter killed at the World Trade Center. "He's not talking about the story of the failure of his administration, and that has to be told, because we have to protect this country."
Monday's event in a small auditorium on the Dartmouth campus, held by a group called 9/1 1 Parents & Families of Firefighters, is one of the few attempts to challenge Giuliani's main campaign narrative, which he has controlled successfully thus far.
If it succeeds, members of the organizing group said, they hope to take their story about Giuliani nationwide to counter what they say is an untrue narrative he's presenting on the campaign trail.
Criticizing Giuliani over Sept. 11 might prove to be a daunting task. Campaign experts say he has turned his Sept. 11 image into almost a trademark that makes him easily identifiable and likable to voters. His Republican presidential rivals have shied away from questioning his credentials on terrorism and national security, acknowledging him as a hero and "America's mayor."
"It was a big event, and his role was so big, it's been seared into people's memory," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "The attempts to criticize Giuliani over Sept. 11 have either been small enterprises or very hesitant."
Giuliani's campaign has responded only mildly so far to the organizers of the Dartmouth event. It issued a statement from Lee Ielpi, a former New York City firefighter whose son was killed Sept. 11.
"I understand the emotion surrounding September 11th, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was the terrorists who attacked New York City," Ielpi said in the statement. "On that day and the days following, New Yorkers and the rest of the country were fortunate to have the steady and strong leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani."