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El Cajon mayor resigns after his remarks on Chaldean immigrants

Immigration

The mayor of El Cajon has stepped down amid calls for his resignation due to remarks about immigrants that were seen as derogatory.

Mark Lewis, 65, mayor of the suburb east of San Diego since 1998, said that he is resigning "to avoid any further concerns by our citizens and to allow our city council and community to move forward in their work to make this city the finest place it can be."

In his resignation statement, Lewis said he had already decided not to seek reelection next year due to the effects of a stroke in 2010 and a recent diagnosis of cancer. His resignation is effective immediately.

Members of the city's large Middle Eastern immigrant community had called for Lewis' resignation after he was quoted in a magazine saying that he had seen Chaldean children receiving free lunch and then "being picked up by Mercedes-Benzes."

Lewis was also quoted as saying that once the Chaldeans -- who are Iraqi Christians -- arrive in America they soon learn "where all the freebies are at."

Among those officials calling for Lewis to resign was Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Chula Vista). He called Lewis' comments "derogatory and racist."

"I am sickened to see that someone in Mayor Lewis' position would publicly make such disparaging and unfounded comments," he said.

At a two-hour council meeting Thursday, residents called for his resignation. In his statement, Lewis said his medical problems have "caused me some difficulties in clearly communicating my thoughts."

Lewis, a retired employee with the county government solid waste disposal department, had been on the council for 23 years, the last 15 as mayor.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATsandiego

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