ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (WFLA) — There is controversy surrounding the selection of the newest member of St. Pete’s City Council.

Some council members and the Jewish community raised concerns about Brother John Muhammad’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam and his support for its leader, Louis Farrakhan.

“I am not willing to denounce the leader of my faith no more than a catholic would be willing to denounce their pope,” Muhammad said at Thursday’s city council meeting.

Muhammad, a 46-year-old community activist, said he stood before the council wanting to speak about his contributions to the community.

“But instead of all that I find myself here to address an elephant in the room that has nothing to do with my work,” he said.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Farrakhan is an antisemite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power.”

“Mr. Farrakhan, to me, is just a complete non-starter. What he stands for, what he’s said — a complete non-starter,” said Council Member Ed Antanari, who voted against appointing Muhammad.

After hearing concerns from members of the St. Pete Jewish community, Council Chair Gina Driscoll also said she could not vote for Muhammad to fill the vacant District 7 seat.

“It is a dangerous path when we start to look the other way at alignments that hurt people,” Driscoll said. 

In a 4-3 vote, Muhammad earned just enough support to replace Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who resigned last month after accusations she no longer lived in the district she represented.

“I deny any allegation that I am an antisemite or anti-LGBTQ and I’m encouraged by the fact that many of those in the Jewish community and other communities have been able to see through this coordinated attack and attempt to further divide us,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad is set to swear in at the next Thursday morning’s city council meeting.

Following Muhammad’s appointment, Mayor Ken Welch sent this statement to News Channel 8:

“The Florida Holocaust Museum and the Jewish community are valued members of our great city. I hope that Councilmember Malone Muhammad, as he has indicated he will, works alongside members of our Jewish community to enrich the lives of all residents of the St. Pete community. I’ve spoken with members of the Jewish community regarding their concerns as well, and continue to urge them to have a dialogue with Council Member Malone Muhammad. I look forward to working with our incoming District 7 Council Member on issues important to his District and the City. Intentional inclusivity is an important aspect of my Administration and I’ll continue to work alongside Council for the benefit of our entire community.”

The Florida Holocaust Museum is one of the organizations that opposed Muhammad serving on the city council. The chair of the FHM’s board Michael Igel said there is no record of Muhammad reaching out, but he said he’s inviting him for a tour of the museum as part of its mission to fight antisemitism and educate members of the community.