CINCINNATI – Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Thursday he had exposed himself to the same health risks as workers at ground zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and spent as much time at the site as those involved in the recovery.
The former New York mayor has faced criticism from relatives of some of the firefighters killed at the World Trade Center, who have contended that Giuliani was woefully unprepared for 9/11.
Last month, the parents and siblings of some of the 343 firefighters killed in the terrorist attacks released a video with the International Association of Fire Fighters, which opposes Giuliani's candidacy.
Campaigning in Ohio, Giuliani defended his work, including raising funds.
"This is not a mayor or a governor or a president who's sitting in an ivory tower," he said. "I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. ... I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I'm one of them."
Battalion Chief John McDonnell, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York, said: "I have a real problem with that statement. I think he's really grasping and trying to justify his previous attempts to portray himself as the hero of 9/11."
Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives Endowment Association, the union of NYPD detectives, said the mayor's record can't compare to those who spent 12 months sifting through toxic debris for evidence and human remains.
"As a result of their hard work, many are sick and injured. The mayor, although he did a fine job with 9/11, I don't think he rises to the level of being an equal with those men and women who were involved in the rescue, recovery and cleanup," Palladino said.
Giuliani spoke to reporters at a Los Angeles Dodgers-Cincinnati Reds game, where the former New York mayor watched a little baseball between fundraising appearances.
"I have a chance of winning Ohio, I have a chance of winning New York, I have a chance of winning California," said Giuliani, who also mentioned New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and Minnesota as states he could win. "We've got to put these states in play."
Later, at a combination fundraiser and rally at a suburban pub, Giuliani said that the Democratic candidates lack the executive experience needed to be president.
"This is not a time for on-the-job training," he said.
Ohio doesn't hold its primary until March 4, but the state traditionally is a critical swing state in the general election.
Giuliani said he thinks the war on terror, more than his differences with many Republicans on abortion rights, is a key issue for him.
"I believe the most important issue is being on offense against Islamic terrorism," he said. "I think there's no candidate in the race who has as much experience with that as I do."
He also said he's a fiscal conservative in contrast to Democratic front-runners who want to raise taxes and have (filmmaker) "Michael Moore-style socialized medicine."
Giuliani planned to be part of an evening "Freedom Concert" led by conservative radio talk host Sean Hannity at the Kings Island amusement park. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, considered a potential GOP presidential candidate, was also part of the bill.
The concert headliners were performers Montgomery Gentry, LeAnn Rimes and Lee Greenwood. Proceeds were to support scholarships for the children of slain and disabled U.S. military personnel.