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SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — The city of St. Pete has a new council member, but the new seat did raise some concerns.

St. Pete City Council District 7 seat was left vacant last month when Lisa Wheeler-Bowman resigned following questions about whether she was still living in her district.

On Thursday, Brother John Malone Muhammad — a long-time community advocate in a predominantly black and underserved community — explained to the council why he wanted the seat.

“I planned on talking about how we worked together on things like the community benefits agreement, allocating ARP funds for housing, and how we recently worked with the city and county to change the way they report air quality violations and nuisance waters but instead of talking about all that I find myself hear to address the elephant in the room that has nothing to do with my work,” said Muhammad.

In his opening statement to city council members, Muhammad immediately addressed coming under scrutiny for his support of the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who has been labeled an anti-Semite.

“I deny any allocation that I’m an anti-Semite or anti-LGBTQ and I’m encouraged by the fact that many others in the Jewish community have been able to see through this coordinated attack to further divide us,” said Muhammad.

Earlier this week, the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Pete put out a statement saying that Muhammad’s affiliation with Louis Farrakhan should disqualify him from public office. However, on Friday, after the vote, museum board chair Mike Igel said their mission is to educate people and work together with the council.

“At this point, the focus is on going forward and the future and working together to make and continue to make St. Pete the wonderful city that it is, and I really do look forward to working with every member of the council, including John Muhammed on that,” said Igel.

After the four-hour-long meeting Thursday, city council members voted four to three to appoint Brother John Malone Muhammad to the vacant seat. Muhammad also said he looks forward to working with the Jewish community.

“In one of the calls that I made during the process, we are actually coordinating the hosting of a Black-Jewish dialog to create space for us to discuss the sometimes complicated relationships between our communities and the hopes for the future in the ways we can work together,” said Muhammad.

In a statement, Mayor Ken Welch echoed a similar sentiment hoping that everyone in the community will work with council member Muhammad.

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