Created: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 10:11:00 PST
Updated: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 11:01:13 PST
EL CAJON -- An audio recording of El Cajon's mayor is fueling allegations of racism, and calls for him to apologize.
In an interview with The Progressive magazine, Mayor Mark Lewis linked Iraqi immigrants with the drug trade, and suggested the children of some wealthy immigrants were taking advantage of government assistance programs.
"We've had these people on aid, in regards to free lunches. I mean it's like, OK, they're free lunches. They're being picked up by Mercedes-Benzes," Lewis can be heard saying on an audio recording posted online Wednesday.
The recording was posted after members of the Chaldean community protested at the El Cajon City Council. After the meeting, Lewis suggested that he was misquoted, or the statements were taken out of context.
In the recording, Lewis can also be heard saying, “There’s lots of prostitutes in regards to the Middle Eastern community” and telling the reporter that the increasing number of Chaldeans had sparked drug-related tension among three minority communities.
“The Mexican community feels intimidated, in regards to Chaldeans trying to get into their turf, in regards to selling drugs,” Lewis says. “Same as the Black Africans, Black Americans."
There are roughly 50,000 Chaldeans in San Diego County, the second largest community in the United States. Of those, 10,000 to 12,000 live in El Cajon. Unlike most Iraqis, Chaldeans are Catholic and speak Aramaic, not Arabic.
"We're at a point where [we need] more than just an apology. We need change in El Cajon. We need more representation. Not just for Chaldeans but for every minority that's been oppressed," said Mark Arabo, a Chaldean-American who grew up in El Cajon and runs the Neighborhood Market Association.
Mayor Lewis did not respond to an interview request by San Diego 6 on Wednesday.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Wells criticized Wells’ remarks in a phone interview with KPBS-TV on Wednesday.
“It’s an insensitive remark,” Wells told KPBS. “If he said something like that, he should apologize.”
Wells said the city does not support institutionalized racism, citing the presence of two Chaldeans, including one woman, on the city’s planning committee.