EL CAJON, Calif. - Longtime El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis 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 "primarily due to continued health problems," according to a letter obtained by 10News. In the letter, Lewis pointed to a minor stroke in 2010, cancer and a dislocated shoulder.
Read Lewis' resignation letter from 10News San Diego: http://bit.ly/16ypJG9
City officials said Lewis' resignation "is effective immediately" and "until such time as a new Mayor is chosen, Mayor ProTem Bill Wells, will assume the duties of the Mayor's office. The City Council is expected to discuss filling the Mayors seat at the next regularly scheduled meeting on November 12, 2013 at 3:00 p.m."
Another letter from Lewis was posted on the city of El Cajon's website earlier Thursday. In it, Lewis made no mention of resigning but he did apologize to anyone he offended and said he did not intend his remarks to be insensitive.
Read Lewis' apology from 10News San Diego: http://bit.ly/1aeEsmI
The Neighborhood Market Association issued this statement Friday in response to Lewis' resignation:
"Upon hearing news that Mark Lewis has resigned as Mayor of the City of El Cajon, we have been both relieved that someone with that mindset will no longer represent us, but still remain uneasy about the future of El Cajon. In an effort to move our great city past this incident and begin the healing process, we find it integral that the remaining members of the City Council make a statement denouncing Mark Lewis' remarks.
It is important that we keep sight on the issues that have been presented this last week, which have become bigger than the Chaldean community and free school lunches. The accusations that were made by Lewis affected the Mexican American, Asian American, and African American communities with comments of drug sells, and racial slurs.
This kind of behavior in a public servant should never be tolerated, and we applaud members of the community, elected officials, and the many various media outlets that were involved in shining light to this issue for their work. However, we will not stop here.
The Neighborhood Market Association and community leaders are asking that the City Council of the City of El Cajon propose the implementation of district elections in the city in their next council meeting. This is the only effective way to prevent minorities from feeling underrepresented at City Hall."
Despite the apology for his comments about Chaldeans, Lewis told 10News Thursday afternoon that he stood behind what he said. He also told 10News reporter Kandiss Crone Thursday afternoon that he would stay on the job.
"Why don't you plan to resign?" Crone asked.
Lewis replied, "Because I've done nothing but tell the truth and when you tell the truth, you shouldn't be afraid."
"When you classify and stereotype an entire race of people, can't you see how that's offensive?" Crone asked Lewis.
"For some people, it can be, but if you do nothing wrong, there's nothing to worry about," said Lewis."No, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be here; I still got another year."
10News later confirmed his resignation Thursday evening.
In an interview with Progressive magazine earlier this year, Lewis was quoted as saying some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are "being picked up by Mercedes Benzes" and that once they come here, "it doesn't take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at."
More on the recorded interview from 10News San Diego: http://bit.ly/1iidrld
"I think it's time for this mayor to go now," Rep. Juan Vargas said Thursday afternoon.
Vargas and some El Cajon community members believed Lewis' next career move should be to resign.
"The things that he's said are completely unacceptable. If you take a look at the racist remarks, and that's the only way they can be characterized as is racist, no other way than openly racist, if he's saying these things, he's thinking these things and he's got to go," Vargas said.
Lewis issued the written apology after dozens of El Cajon residents showed up to a City Council meeting Tuesday night demanding that he apologize.
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.