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Former Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis Passes Away

Carlsbad CA– Former City of Carlsbad Mayor Claude A. “Bud” Lewis, passed away on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. Lewis served on the Carlsbad City Council for 40 years, as a Council member from 1970 to 1986, and mayor from 1986 to 2010, when he retired.

Editors note: Mayor Lewis was one of the first politicians I met as I began my career in photojournalism. The very first time he saw me with my camera bag over my shoulder, it was at a press conference. When it was over, he came up to me, shook my hand and said ‘You’re new around here, welcome.” That was a busy time for Carlsbad city leaders. Carlsbad was growing at a tremendous rate. New roads, Legoland, new resorts. I had many opportunities to chat with the Mayor but our conversations were never about business. The mayor took the time to get to know me on a personal level. That can happen a lot with politicians, passing the time with small talk. That wasn’t the case with Mr. Lewis. He was one of the few politicians that when he saw me without the camera bag, he took the time to say hello, whether it was at the grocery store or out on the streets of town. I lost track of the Mayor when I left photojournalism, for a while, and moved from Carlsbad. I was saddened to learn of his passing. Being the first politician I met, he set the bar pretty high on my expectations of what a politician could be. Below are reactions on the mayors passing from the City of Carlsbad newsletter.

“Mayor Lewis embodied the very best of Carlsbad,” said Mayor Matt Hall, who succeeded Lewis in 2010. “He devoted his life to public service and remained committed to the principles of a fair and open local government, accessible to everyone regardless of social or economic status. His values helped shape the city we are today, effectively managing growth to maintain an excellent quality of life, a strong and diverse economy, and an involved citizenry.”

“Mayor Lewis was my teacher first, then my colleague and ultimately my friend,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mark Packard. “He always took the long term view. Whether talking about how to manage growth or address our critical water supply challenges, he laid the groundwork to make sure our city would continue to thrive long after he was gone. That is a sign of a great leader.”

“Mayor Buddy Lewis was a rare politician who won people over while remaining true to himself,” said City Council Member Lorraine Wood, who served as City Clerk during Lewis’ mayoral tenure. “He wasn’t prone to telling people what they wanted to hear, but he told them the truth. He stayed true to the motto that what was right for Carlsbad wasn’t always popular, and what was popular wasn’t always right.”

“Mayor Lewis was a humble man who never forgot his roots,” said Council Member Keith Blackburn. “He was a man of integrity, and he brought that to the office every day, trying to do what was best for Carlsbad, its residents and its businesses.”

“When I served on the Carlsbad Planning Commission, I saw the result of Mayor Lewis’ legacy every day,” said Council Member Michael Schumacher. “He made sure we maintained high standards, and as a result of his hard work he left Carlsbad a better place than he found it.”

Former Council Member Ann Kulchin, who served on the council from 1980 until 2012, remembered Lewis as the ultimate team player.

“I learned so much from Buddy Lewis because he taught me early on that there is no ‘I’ in serving on the City Council,” said Kulchin. “I cannot do anything. We can accomplish so many things. In all the time I served with him I never heard him say, ‘I.’ It was always ‘we’ or ‘the council.’ ”

Hall recalled that Lewis came from hardscrabble beginnings. His family had homesteaded in Arkansas but lost its farm during the Great Depression, and joined the wave of migrants who sought a better life in California. Lewis’ father found work helping build the California Aqueduct, then as a welder in Los Angeles during World War II. Lewis graduated high school in 1949, and then served as a weapons instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951-54, during the Korean War.

When Lewis was first elected to the City Council in 1970, Carlsbad’s population was roughly 15,000 residents, and when he retired as mayor the population was 105,000. Lewis regarded managing that growth as one of his greatest accomplishments as mayor, but he always shared credit.

“I cannot point to one single thing I have done in the past 40 years for the city of Carlsbad or our region that has not been a total team effort, including my fellow City Council members, the city’s professional staff and our community of residents and businesses,” Lewis wrote in a newspaper farewell article in November 2010.

He said the key to his success was surrounding himself with people smarter than he was, and learning from them. But he always made up his own mind based on what he thought was best for Carlsbad’s residents.

In 1986, then Council member Lewis helped draft a ballot measure that would control growth by requiring developers to pay for the roads, parks and services their projects made necessary, and to limit growth until public infrastructure was in place. That measure, the Growth Management Plan, was passed by voters in 1986 and controls Carlsbad’s development to this day.

Although he served as council member and mayor for 40 years, his political career began as an experiment in civic engagement. In 1970, he was teaching government at Carlsbad High School when his students, frustrated by the Vietnam War, complained about the country’s condition and the quality of its leaders. Lewis, a former Marine, defended the system, saying that a government was only as good as the people elected to office, and the key was electing the right people.

Lewis’ students took that as a dare and put his name on the ballot for City Council. They ran his campaign, painting campaign signs at the Lewis family home. Lewis regarded the campaign as an interesting civics lesson, until he won.

It was perhaps Lewis’ only political miscalculation, as he was elected to the council four times, and to the mayor’s office six times.

Besides managing the city’s growth, Mayor Lewis saw establishing water independence as a top priority for Carlsbad and San Diego County. He served on the San Diego County Water Authority and on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. His efforts to make the region less reliant on imported water led to his work to help develop an ocean water desalination plant on Carlsbad’s coast. That plant, a private development of Poseidon Water, is now under construction and is scheduled to begin delivering water from a drought-proof source in early 2016.

Mayor Lewis also supported the establishment of Carlsbad as a successful tourist destination, bolstered by the city’s reputation for clean beaches, beautiful flower fields and world-class golf resorts. City voters approved the establishment in 1993 of LEGOLAND California, the first LEGOLAND theme park in North America, which has helped make Carlsbad a prime Southern California tourist destination. The park opened in 1999, the same year that The Flower Fields were established as an official destination.

Bud Lewis and his previous wife, Beverly Lewis, were honored as 2009 Carlsbad Citizens of the Year. Bev Lewis died in 2011. The couple had two children and two grandchildren. Mayor Lewis was recently remarried to Sibylla Voll.

“They just don’t make them like that anymore,” said Hall. “He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in Carlsbad for generations.”

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