EL CAJON, Calif. - The mayor of El Cajon is defending his comments that some are calling racist.
More than 100 residents packed El Cajon City Council chambers demanding Mayor Mark Lewis apologize for his recent comments about Chaldean schoolchildren.
In a May 2013 article, Lewis told "The Progressive" magazine that some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are "being picked up by Mercedes Benzes." He added that once they come here, "it doesn't take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at."
"It is important that we confront discrimination and injustice whenever it rears its ugly head," said a man at the meeting.
Another man at the meeting said, "I would like to see you give a public apology to the Chaldeans."
There are more than 50,000 Iraqi-Christians, known as Chaldeans in San Diego County. El Cajon has the second largest population of Chaldeans in the United States.
Lewis agreed to an interview with 10News but canceled at the last minute.
Before the meeting, he told 10News he did not think his comment was offensive, saying the only people who should be offended are the ones who are getting free lunches and do not qualify.
10News waited patiently for hours for Lewis to talk with him after the city council meeting and asked him about his words, point blank.
"I made those comments but not in that order," he said.
Lewis added, "I received complaints to my office about, 'Hey, these people want food, (they're) getting free food from school lunches and they own liquor stores. How can they qualify?'"
Words like that are insulting to Chaldean-Americans like Mark Arabo.
"The citizens of El Cajon deserve better … deserve better than someone to oppress them and say, 'Hey, you guys don't matter,'" Arabo told 10News.
Many like him feel that the El Cajon City Council needs to be more accepting of diversity in the city.
"I was hoping for an apology and for them to say, 'You know what, we're wrong. We love diversity, we love minorities, let's put a seat at the table,'" he said.
Lewis is also accused of making offensive comments about women. Vicki Butcher says Lewis had shocking words for her when he learned she wanted to fill the council seat vacated by Jillian Hanson-Cox.
"The comments were that this city could do well, was fine without having diversity because I represented diversity, without having another woman and that other cities were run by five white males quite well," said Butcher.