A family member reached at Newman's Escondido home said the family could not immediately talk about his death. Through city spokeswoman Joyce Masterson, the family said Newman died after “a long-standing battle with lymphoma.”
Newman, 65, was elected to the Escondido City Council in 2002, following his retirement that year as a San Diego police captain. He had been with the department for 34 years.
He served on the council for one four-year term, choosing not to run for re-election last year. He cited a desire to truly retire and work on his golf game. Newman never mentioned his illness in numerous interviews with reporters.
During his time on the dais, Newman tackled issues including a plan for increasing housing downtown, a controversial housing ordinance that would have banned illegal immigrants from renting in the city and issues related to mobile homes.
Bob Lampert, a retired journalist formerly with KGTV, met Newman in the early 1970s and considered him to be one of his best friends.
He said Newman was diagnosed last year after doctors spent months trying to figure out why he had a persistent cough. During heated public debates last fall about the housing ordinance, which imposed fines and a loss of business licenses on landlords who rented to illegal immigrants, Newman was diagnosed and began chemotherapy, Lampert said.
This year doctors declared the cancer gone, Lampert said, but it reappeared about 45 days ago.
“You couldn't meet a nicer guy,” Lampert said. “He never said a bad word about anybody.”
Newman was considered a dedicated and conscientious police officer. In 2002, near the end of his career, he oversaw the investigation of David Westerfield, the Sabre Springs man now on death row for kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam, the child of a neighbor.
San Diego Assistant Police Chief William Maheu, who knew Newman for decades, said there wasn't a better police officer to be found.
“Ron was a remarkable man in so many ways,” Maheu said. “He was a wonderful family man and a tremendous investigator. He was an icon for so many years in this department.”
For a long time Newman was the face of the department, Maheu said, often appearing on television. “And what a great face for us to have. He was an intelligent, careful, caring, loving individual who saw the worst in society but represented the best of it.”
Transitioning from a lifetime of police work to that of city councilman was not easy, Pfeiler said. “He was the first to admit it was not a natural progression,” Pfeiler said.
Newman felt called to serve, she said. But he soon learned his work as a career police officer was different from the issues he faced as a council member, with more people, opinions and details pulling him in different directions.
Toward the end of his term, Newman ended up at the center of a storm involving the illegal immigrant ordinance, perhaps the most contentious issue ever to come before the council. Councilwoman Marie Waldron, who proposed the ordinance, and other supporters argued it would reduce overcrowding and poverty in the city.
Newman, a registered Republican with a conservative bent, and Pfeiler adamantly opposed it, both for humanitarian and financial reasons. He described the measure as ill-conceived and racist.
The ordinance was rescinded after Newman left the council, as the city faced mounting legal bills from a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance's legality. It ended up costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Friends at City Hall said Newman looked healthy and they were shocked by his death.
“I'm sorry to hear the news,” Waldron said.
Waldron said she and Newman agreed on most issues and she valued his extensive experience in public safety. When they disagreed, she said, Newman did so professionally and “very eloquently.”
“I think it's a very sad day for Escondido,” said Councilman Sam Abed, who despite some disagreements, considered Newman to be a friend full of integrity.
In addition to the illegal immigrant ordinance, Newman was passionate about bringing a new hospital to Escondido, council members said.
Lampert said Newman was a dedicated family man who leaves behind a wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.