El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis is apologizing to residents who may have been offended by comments he made about Chaldeans that he said were taken out of context.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting Lewis was accused in open session of making several disparaging remarks against Chaldeans - all of which he denies.
"No statement like that ever been made," Lewis told those in attendance.
Lewis released a statement Thursday that said, in part, “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 El Cajon.”
The mayor of a community that is known to have a large Chaldean population, Lewis allegedly said Chaldean parents drive their kids to school in luxury cars, but sign them up for free, tax payer-funded lunches.
In his official statement, Lewis said he believes his remarks were taken out of context.
“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 states.
“If anyone within our community felt hurt by my comments, I apologize,” the statement reads. “Again, it was not my intention to harm anyone with my remarks.”
The statement was not enough for U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, (D) 51st District.
Vargas called for the mayor’s resignation along with a number of representatives from community groups.
"The things that he has said not only very recently, but in the past about different communities is completely unacceptable," Vargas said. "We've seen one mayor run out of town for the things he did and I think it's time for this mayor to go now too."
Chaldeans, led by Neighborhood Market Association President Mark Arabo – who recently went to battle with the council over a liquor store ordinance - said the all-white male council is alienating his community.
"They don't have a voice, and when they come to city hall to do business, they're laughed at and shunned upon," Arabo told the council Tuesday.
Thursday, Arabo joined Vargas, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, state Senator Ben Hueso, and San Diego City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole in calling for Lewis to resign. Vargas went a step further and called on all elected officials in San Diego, Democrat or Republican, to join him in asking for Lewis to go.
"Racism unchecked is like a cancer," Gonzalez said. "We can't afford a leader who engages in such hateful language."
Hueso agreed stating, "We cannot afford nor should we tolerate a mayor of any city to make comments that could potentially incite violence."
NBC7 asked Vargas if there's any concern about eroding the democratic process of electing leaders to represent us and voting them out of office when they are wrong.
Vargas responded: "No, as an elected leader, I got to tell you, 'behave.' You know? Behave. Act right."
Arabo and others are now fighting for council districts similar to those in San Diego so elected officials can better represent smaller communities. We were also curious if Arabo, at the helm of a very politically influential Neighborhood Market Association and a top leader in the Chaldean community, plans to run for mayor in El Cajon.
Arabo said he had not considered the possibility yet, but would not support any mayor that has been attacking citizens.
"We are not going to stand for it," he added.
Nearly 50,000 Chaldeans live here in San Diego’s East County. Outside of Iraq, only Deerborn, Michigan has a larger Chaldean population.