EL CAJON, Calif. — Longtime El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis has resigned amid accusations that he made prejudicial comments about the East County city’s large Chaldean community.
Lewis, who has been mayor since 1998, resigned for “health reason” in a letter of resignation sent to the city. Lewis said he was dealing with the effects of a minor stroke in 2010, cancer and a dislocated shoulder.
Lewis’ resignation was effective immediately, city officials said. Mayor ProTem Bill Wellsis assuming the duties of mayor until a new mayor is chosen, they said.
Another letter from the mayor was posted on El Cajon’s website earlier Thursday. In it, Lewis made no mention of resigning but he apologized to anyone he offended and said he did not intend his remarks to be insensitive.
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 the letter posted on the city’s website, Lewis explained his comments to the magazine as “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.”
An estimated 50,000 Chaldeans — or Iraqi Catholics — live in San Diego County and of those, 10,000 to 15,000 are El Cajon residents.