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Bill Wells said his criticisms were directed at pro-alcohol members of the Iraqi Christian community and didn’t mean to paint the community with a broad brush.
I got a call this morning from El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells. He was concerned about his quote about Iraqi Christian influence in his city in my story on Neighborhood Market Association head and Iraqi Christian advocate Mark Arabo.
“I don’t feel like the article reflected my true feelings,” Wells said. “My issue is not with the Chaldean people.”
In an interview last month, Wells told me that El Cajon hasn’t elected candidates supported by the Iraqi Christian community because the city doesn’t want the change that would represent.
“They’ve ruffled some feathers,” Wells said in that interview. “What I’m hearing from my constituents is they’re uncomfortable with the way El Cajon is changing. When they see this new ethnic group coming in and trying to take over, they have problems voting that in.”
Wells told me Thursday he wasn’t referring to all Iraqi Christians in East County – just Arabo and other politically active members of the community because they tend to support alcohol interests. Wells is leading a charge to crack down on corner grocers and liquor stores in the city, many of which are owned by Iraqi Christians and represented by the Neighborhood Market Association.
“I think people are concerned about their motivations and it gets wrapped up in this ethnicity thing because they all happen to be the same ethnicity,” Wells said.
El Cajon has had a recent history of tension between its established political hierarchy and its growing Iraqi Christian population. Wells’ predecessor, Mark Lewis, resigned in 2013 after making racist remarks against Iraqi Christians and other ethnic groups. Arabo led the push to oust Lewis and is advocating for changes to El Cajon’s charter to increase the City Council’s diversity.
Wells also noted that he supported Star Bales, an Iraqi Christian, to take his place on the Council after Lewis’ resignation.