Pitts hit for letter error

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Cites dead Arafat, comatose Sharon as part of Middle East solution; staff apologizes for error

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-16)

A local Congressman is taking hits for having a decidedly retro take on Middle East politics in a letter sent to a constituent last month.

According to Ian Rhodewalt, writer for the Middle East Web news site MondoWeiss, U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-16) responded to a letter from his father, a resident of the 16th Congressional District and referenced the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Arial Sharon.

“My father recently received a form letter response from Joe Pitts,” Rhodewalt wrote on his site. “A year ago, after visiting me in Ramallah, my father contacted Pitts’ office, expressing his opposition to House Resolution 268, a one-sided resolution that condemned Palestinians and reaffirmed the US “commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Rhodewalt, who currently lives in Ramala, said he and his father were a little shocked by the letter sent in response which contained this passage:

“With the global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat to clamp down on Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a peace process that has collapsed.”

Arafat has been dead since 2004 and Sharon has been in a coma since 2006.

Pitts, of East Marlborough, is taking hits for the mistake, but his staff moved quickly Wednesday to apologize and said it was a clerical mistake — actually, two mistakes — in short, an old form letter was used to reply in error a year late.

“Congressman Pitts responds to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries a year,” said Pitts‘ spokesman Andrew Wilmer. “Because it is impossible to draft a unique reply to each inquiry, language is often reused for similar responses. In this case, a double mistake was made. Language that should have been archived was included in a draft response. The response was then pulled from the queue because of the error, and then mistakenly sent almost a year later.”

While it doesn’t excuse the mistake, Wilmer said, the volume of mail Pitts’ office must respond to can cause errors.

“Responding to tens of thousands of letters a year is a complicated process,” Wilmer said. “Mistakes are both few and rare, but do sometimes occur. This one was particularly embarrassing. We have apologized to the constituent and are reviewing our internal process to make sure this sort of thing can’t happen again.”

Democrat Aryanna Strader, of Kennett Square, running against Pitts in the fall election, chimed in an email to her supporters.

“Being this completely out of touch with such a major foreign policy matter is inexcusable,” Strader wrote in an email to supporters this week, seeking to raise money from the issue. “If we are ever going to change Congress, we must change who we send there.”

Strader issued a further statement, Wednesday:

“While mistakes do happen, it is troubling to think that our congressman is out of touch to such a degree,” she said.  “Whether Congressman Pitts is unaware of foreign leaders or he is blaming a staff member for a clerical error, the fact is that constituents depend upon their elected officials to provide them with timely and accurate information.”

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