El Cajon mayor resigns

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A whirlwind of backlash hit the El Cajon City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as residents filled the chambers to protest comments that Mayor Mark Lewis made in a May interview with The Progressive in which he made several derogatory comments on the Chaldean, Hispanic and African-American community.

A whirlwind of backlash hit the El Cajon City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as residents filled the chambers to protest comments that Mayor Mark Lewis made in a May interview with The Progressive in which he made several derogatory comments on the Chaldean, Hispanic and African-American community.

By Thursday evening, Oct. 24, Lewis released a statement of apology, shortly followed by a statement of his resignation as mayor effective immediately after serving El Cajon for 23 year, 15 years as mayor, replaced by Mayor ProTem Bill Wells.

Acting Mayor Bill Wells said he understands why people are so upset and does not blame them, but that there are two things that the community needs to know about Lewis’ resignation.

“First, his comments are non defensible,” he said. “But there is a lot more to him than this. He has had a long career of doing positive things for the city and his health did more for his lapse of judgment than most people understand.”

Wells said at the next council meeting on Nov. 12, the first thing that council needs to do is calm everyone down.

“We need to focus on all of the good things that El Cajon is all about,” he said. “That means moving forward. There are many great things in El Cajon that have to continue.”

Wells said that as far as procedure goes, a decision will be made on who takes Lewis’s place and it will probably be by appointment with election year so close and an approximate $100,000 price tag of a special election. He said then there will be an empty seat and the City Council will need to decide whether to fill that seat by appointment or special election. With elections next year, Wells said it does not make sense to hold a special election, with cost of the process and the personal cost of the running a campaign. If council decides to appoint, he said procedures dictate taking applications and if that route is taken, he expects the empty seat to be filled in December.

In The Progressive’s article, “Little Baghdad, California,” Arun Gupta stated that an average of 400 Iraqis a month have made their way to San Diego County since 2008, with El Cajon estimated with a one-third Iraqi-American population. He also stated some 1,500 Shi’a found their way to El Cajon after the 1991 Gulf War along with Mandaeans and Yezidis. But he said it is the estimated 30,000 Chaldean Catholics that invigorated El Cajon with the Iraqi culture.

In the interview, Lewis said he received complaints from single women not being served in Chaldean owned establishments and he warned businesses that they must serve women.

“In our society the female is the same as the male,” said Lewis in the interview. “They haven’t gotten that through their heads yet.”

Lewis stated in the interview some Chaldean schoolchildren receiving free lunches were being picked up by Mercedes Benzes. “He adds: ‘First time, they come over here, it doesn’t take them too long to learn were all the freebies are at.’ This he says, causes ‘a lot of resentment in regard to veterans,” who ask, ‘Why can’t (the federal government) support veterans like they are supporting minorities coming over here?’ Lewis says this is creating ‘white flight’”

In the tape recording, released to The Raw Story, he also links the Chaldeans to causing tension between other minority groups in regards to taking prostitution and drug related “turfs” from the Mexican, Black Africans and Black American communities.

Lewis apologized in an Oct. 24 press release and said his remarks from the interview were “taken out of context” and he had no intentions to “cast aspirations upon either our Chaldean community or any other minority community in El Cajon.”

Later that evening, Lewis submitted a letter of resignation stating health problems, including a minor stroke in 2010, cancer, a dislocated shoulder and other health related problems. He said he also made the decision to “avoid in further concerns by our citizens and to allow our City Council and community to move forward and make this city the finest place it can be.”