EL CAJON, Calif. – El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis apologized Thursday after outrage erupted over comments he made regarding the Chaldean community.
Lewis issued the following statement:
“Several citizens expressed concerns at our most recent City Council meeting about remarks I made a number of months ago during an interview,
believing that my remarks could be construed as being anti-Chaldean in nature or were in some manner insensitive to certain members of our community.
I believe my remarks have been taken out of context. I want to be clear that it was never my intention to cast aspersions upon either our Chaldean community or any other minority community in EI Cajon. 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.
If anyone within our community felt hurt by my comments, I apologize. Again, it was not my intention to harm anyone with my remarks. As Mayor of this great City, I am extraordinarily proud of all of our citizens and especially those within the Chaldean and other immigrant communities who have made the brave choice to leave the difficult circumstances within their homeland and come to America. They represent an important and respected part of the EI Cajon community and we will continue to welcome them as we always have.”
Click here to watch raw video of our interview with Lewis. (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1a1Sndz)
On Tuesday evening, Lewis tried to explain his comments to 10News, saying, “I made those comments, but not in that order.”
Lewis made the comments during an interview with the publication “The Progressive” last spring in an article entitled “Little Baghdad, California.”
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.”
“I am very disturbed,” Chaldean-American Mark Arabo told 10News on Wednesday. Arabo heads the Neighborhood Grocers Association and was born and raised in the East County.
“Instead of saying he’s sorry for attacking children and the character of a culture, which he represents, he made it into this political thing about Chaldeans,” he said.
In response to Lewis’ apology, Arabo issued this statement Thursday:
“Although we have received news of Mayor Mark Lewis and his recent apology, the Neighborhood Market Association finds that this is an issue that goes beyond Chaldean American’s and free school lunches.
Mayor Lewis has made rash and severe accusations against other minority groups. As heard in the raw audio from his interview with the progressive, he stated, ‘The Mexican community feels intimidated, in regards to Chaldeans trying to get into their turf, in regards to selling drugs, same as the Black Africans, Black Americans.’
His apology has not encompassed the magnitude of these statements and therefore we find that this was not enough.
We have been in contact with Latino and African American community leaders, and they have also responded with outrage to the hour-long audio found on rawstory.com …”
Rep. Juan Vargas, who represents the 51st Congressional District, called on Lewis to resign. He issued this statement Thursday:
“The remarks made by Mayor Mark Lewis were not only derogatory and racist, but also perpetuate stereotypes of minority communities. I am sickened to see that someone in Mayor Lewis’ position would publicly make such disparaging and unfounded comments. Sweeping generalizations and degrading rhetoric only create divides and breed hatred.
Today, I call on Mayor Mark Lewis to resign. The residents of El Cajon deserve to be represented by someone who embraces all cultures, not someone who is openly intolerant.”
There are more than 50,000 Iraqi-Christians, known as Chaldeans, in San Diego County. El Cajon has the second-largest population of Chaldeans in the U.S.