Temecula mayor who resigned over email uproar files to run for city council again

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James 'Stew' Stewart

Former Temecula mayor James Stewart has filed papers to run for city council after stepping down last month.

Stewart pulled a candidate intention statement July 13 — the first day of the nominating period for city council — from the Temecula City Clerk’s office, and has since qualified to run for election in Temecula City Council District 4 this November.

“James Stewart pulled papers on July 13, 2020 and filed papers on July 21, 2020 and has qualified as a candidate for District 4 with the requisite number of signatures verified,” Temecula City Clerk Randi Johl confirmed Tuesday.

The former mayor has not made any public social media statements of his intention to run again as of July 28, and did not return a message seeking comment the afternoon of July 27.

Stewart announced his resignation both from his seat on the city council and his position as mayor in a Facebook post on June 4, after criticism erupted online of an email he had sent to a constituent stating “I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer.”

The email that led to Stewart’s decision to step down both as mayor and from his city council seat was sent at 11:02 p.m. June 2 as part of a conversation with a local resident that Stewart said was “concerned about our police officers and their sensitivity training.”

In part, Stewart writes in the email: “And I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer.” That part quickly drew backlash when images of the email were shared on social media; Stewart, apparently in reaction, shared his own screenshot of the email on Facebook June 3, saying: “So you are all going to hear about this.”

Stewart said that word “good” in that email was transcribed in error — he said he was dictating the email, and while stating he believed there had been no police shootings of people of color locally he did not notice his words had not been accurately recorded. Stewart said in his Facebook post that he is “well known” for having dyslexia, and frequently utilizes a voice to text feature on his phone.

“Unfortunately I did not take the time to proofread what was recorded,” Stewart said in his Facebook post. “I absolutely did not say that. What I said is and I don’t believe there has ever been a person of color murdered by police, on context to Temecula or Riverside county. I absolutely did not say ‘good’ I have no idea how that popped up. Please forgive me for this egregious error. as you can see by the second half of the statement racism is not tolerated at any level in the city or the county.”

However, the social media backlash continued against Stewart, with some promising to speak at an approaching city council meeting to call for him to step down. Though Stewart was not without supporters on Facebook, he announced his resignation the evening of June 4, after Valley News and the Press-Enterprise reported on the controversy.

“City of Temecula, I hear you, I agree with you, and I am deeply sorry,” Stewart said in a statement posted to his Facebook page around 9 p.m. June 4.

“I owe everyone an apology including our citizens of all backgrounds and ethnicities, City staff, and my respected colleagues on the City Council. You have every right to be offended. My typos and off-the-cuff response to an email on a serious topic added pain at a time where our community, and our country, is suffering. I may not be the best writer and I sometimes misspeak, but I am not racist. I regret this mistake and I own it, entirely. I am truly sorry.

“I understand that even my sincerest apologies cannot remedy this situation. Because actions speak louder than words, I will step down as your Mayor an City Council Member, effective immediately. It has been a true honor to serve this great City and its citizens. My love for Temecula and its residents is beyond expression.”

The post on Stewart’s Facebook page continued with a statement from Mayor Pro Tem Maryann Edwards:

“Stew is a hard-working and honest man, and the City accepts his resignation. Temecula is poised to close this chapter, and continue our long-term commitment to preventing injustice in any form. On this day of Mr. George Floyd’s memorial service, and on behalf of my council colleagues, the City of Temecula offers our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his family.”

The remaining four members of the Temecula City Council agreed at their June 23 meeting to leave the position of mayor — which is rotated among the city council members on an annual basis — vacant until December, when Stewart’s time in the position would have ended.

Though Stewart has only been off the council for less than two months, he now faces a crowded field of candidates who have also filed paperwork to run in District 4.

As of July 28, there were five other candidates in the district: Breena Gerber, Maerk Gular, Adam Ruiz, Daryle Shaw and Art Torres.

Stewart was elected at-large in 2016 and this year is the first time an election will be held for District 4, which covers the area where Stewart lives, since its creation in 2017.

Candidates for the Temecula City Council have until Aug. 7 to file paperwork to qualify for the November ballot.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.