Wells tapped to finish term of resigned El Cajon mayor

EL CAJON (CNS) – Councilman Bill Wells was tapped Tuesday by the El Cajon City Council to finish the term of ex-Mayor Mark Lewis, who resigned last month.

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Wells had been filling the mayoral duties on an interim basis. The current term runs through next year.

Lewis stepped down after a magazine published statements he made, which were considered offensive by the East County city’s substantial Chaldean population.

Lewis, the mayor since 1998, cited health reasons in leaving office Oct. 24. He had a minor stroke in 2010 and has suffered from cancer and a dislocated shoulder.

The council decided against ordering a special election, which would have been costly and resulted in the winner serving only a few months before having to run for reelection.

However, the council members were criticized last year for quickly appointing planning commissioner Tony Ambrose to replace Jillian Hanson-Cox, who resigned and later pleaded guilty to two felony charges of embezzling $3.5 million from her employer.

The council could make decisions on filling Wells’ council seat at its Dec. 10 meeting, said city spokeswoman Monica Zech. The city will accept applications that will be made available on its website next week.

Zech said Wells was reelected last year, so the term for the now-vacant position runs through 2016.

Lewis was quoted in The Progressive magazine in May as saying that some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are “being picked up by Mercedes-Benzes.” It also quoted the mayor as saying, “First time (the Chaldeans) come over here, it doesn’t take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at.”

In a letter posted on the city’s website, Lewis explained his comments to the magazine by saying, “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 later said in broadcast interviews that his infirmities have made it difficult to speak and use words correctly, but he stood behind his comments.

An estimated 50,000 Chaldeans — Iraqi Catholics — live in San Diego County and of those, 10,000 to 15,000 are El Cajon residents.