Chaldean businessman considers El Cajon mayorship

By Liz Swain
Ben Kalasho sought office before Mark Lewis resigned
Shortly after the October 17 East County Democratic Club meeting started, president Frank Tsimboukakis asked the El Cajon mayoral candidate to speak.

“Not yet,” replied 30-year-old Ben Kalasho, a 2012 El Cajon City Council candidate who described himself as Chaldean-American. Kalasho’s response indicated that he hadn’t decided whether to run for mayor in 2014. (That office has since been vacated by Mark Lewis, who served on the council from 1990 until 1998, when he was elected mayor.)

After the meeting, Tsimboukakis praised Kalasho’s efforts on issues such as saving the East County Performing Arts Center. Kalasho was among the residents who persuaded the council in 2012 to reject a plan to demolish the center and replace it with a hotel.

“Everyone is pushing him to run for mayor,” said Tsimboukakis.

In 2012, Kalasho placed fourth in a field of eight candidates vying for three council seats. “I lost to a person [who has been] on the council since I was nine years old,” Kalasho said in an October 21 interview.

Third place went to Bob McClellan, who was elected in 1992. In 2012, McClellan received 8439 votes; Kalasho garnered 8041. Also on the ballot was Christopher Shamoon (4900 votes). He and Kalasho “sought to be the first Chaldean elected to the council,” according to East County Magazine.

San Diego County has the second largest Chaldean population in this country. According to the Chaldean American Institute, the majority of the 40,000 Chaldeans live in El Cajon.

Kalasho said supporters began urging him to run for mayor the day after the final election results. An “I support Ben Kalasho for Mayor of El Cajon” Facebook page was launched on May 5.

Kalasho said he’s not sure who created the page and that an “exploratory committee is looking into the mayor’s race.”

When asked about the prospect of being the first Chaldean elected to political office in El Cajon, Kalasho spoke proudly about another first: Wadie P. Deddeh was the “first Chaldean elected to office” in the United States. Deddeh served in the California Assembly from 1967–1983 and the state senate from 1983–1993. Like Deddeh, Kalasho was born in Iraq and is a Democrat. Deddeh is also the great-uncle of Kalasho’s wife, Jessica.

Kalasho’s family immigrated to the East County in 1990 and lived two years in Spring Valley before settling in El Cajon. He graduated from Valhalla High School and studied economics at UCSD. He owns two businesses in Santee — a gas station and a (“green”) car-wash.

He and Jessica, who is half Chaldean and half Hispanic, married in 2011. They attend services at Foothills Christian Church and went door-to-door campaigning last year.

(corrected 11/2, 2:20 p.m.)

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