Longtime Mayor Mark Lewis resigned last month following published statements that were considered offensive by the East County city’s substantial Chaldean population.
Lewis, the mayor since 1998, cited health reasons in stepping down Oct. 24. Lewis had a minor stroke in 2010 and has suffered from cancer and a dislocated shoulder. Councilman Bill Wells has been serving as interim mayor since then.
The council could appoint someone to serve as mayor to serve out the final year of Lewis’ term or hold a special election.
Council members were criticized for quickly appointing planning commissioner Tony Ambrose to replace Jillian Hanson-Cox, who resigned in March 2012 and later pleaded guilty to two felony charges of embezzling $3.5 million from her employer.
However, a special election would be expensive and would result in the winner being in office for less than a year before having to run for re- election.
Lewis was quoted in The Progressive magazine in May as saying that some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are “being picked up by Mercedes-Benzes.” It also quoted the mayor as saying, “First time (the Chaldeans) come over here, it doesn’t take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at.”
In a letter posted on the city’s website, Lewis explained his comments to the magazine by saying, “I was simply expressing my opinion that I believe that the limited social services made available to our residents in El Cajon should go to those most in need of them, including those within the Chaldean community.”
He later said in broadcast interviews that his infirmities have made it difficult to speak and use words correctly, but he stood behind his comments.
An estimated 50,000 Chaldeans — Iraqi Catholics — live in San Diego County and of those, 10,000 to 15,000 are El Cajon residents.