Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro today called local state Sen. Dick Black's letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “unbelievable” and likened it to “sending a thank you note to Stalin.”
Commenting on the correspondence in which Black lauds the controversial Syrian leader and his national army “for its heroic rescue of Christians in the Qalamoun Mountain Range" of Syria, Mayor Lazaro said the senator's words are “inaccurate and naïve.”
Lazaro last year traveled to Turkey to meet with Syrian refugees as part of a Northern Virginia community-organized blanket drive. In addition to serving as mayor of the western Loudoun town, Lazaro is the vice chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and co-chairman of the Virginia Municipal League's Legislative Committee, according to the Town of Purcellville's website.
“I think of the little kids I saw and the families I met,” Lazaro, speaking to the Times-Mirror about Black's letter, said Wednesday. “I've seen the pain in their faces ... I've seen Syrian kids [the same age as those] who were gassed by their own government.”
To send Assad a letter of thanks is "unfathomable," said the mayor.
Black, who represents portions of Purcellville, Leesburg, Ashburn and Prince William County, is known as one of the most hard-line Christian conservatives in Virginia's General Assembly.
In his letter to Assad
, the senator states: "I pray that your army will drive the jihadists from Syria, so that Syrians of all faiths may live together in peace.
"Until then," Black continued, "I pray that the Syrian armed forces will continue to exhibit extraordinary gallantry in the war against terrorists. Please convey my personal thanks to the Syrian Arab Army and Air Force for protecting all patriotic Syrians, including the religious minorities who face death at the hands of the foreign jihadists."
The senator's two-page letter, which was posted this week on the Syrian president's Facebook page, has raised eyebrows for its outright praise of a leader who many experts claim has used chemical weapons to kill some of his citizens in the nation's ongoing civil war. Well more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict since it began in 2011.
While President Barack Obama has called for Assad and his regime to step down, Black said the alternative to Assad's leadership -- al-Qaeda, in Black's eyes -- is far worse.
Black claims "few Americans realize that the rebels in Syria are dominated by our arch-enemy, al-Qaeda."
Lazaro called that categorization false. The Syrian war is “certainly a complex issue,” Lazaro said, but no president who “displaces and gasses his own people” deserves praise.
The Purcellville mayor, elected in nonpartisan elections, considers himself a moderate. He has endorsed candidates in state and federal elections from both major parties, including Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Congressman Frank Wolf.
Lazaro was joined on his 2013 trip to Turkey by Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York, a Republican. Lazaro is a former chief of staff for York.
Virginia Democrats were quick to condemn Black's letter and highlight past controversies involving the GOP lawmaker.
In 2011, Black sent plastic pink models of fetuses to colleagues to sway votes on an abortion bill, and he's made several inflammatory remarks about the gay community and spousal rape.
"It is bizarre that state Sen. Dick Black would send a letter to the President of Syria. Especially one that heaps praise on President Bashar al-Assad, a man who has presided over terrible massacres and atrocities, including gas attacks that killed hundreds of his own people," state Sen. Donald McEachin, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said in a statement. “As state legislators we should be spending our time on issues here in Virginia."
This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify a quote from Mayor of Purcellville Bob Lazaro.