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John Muhammad will represent St. Pete’s District 7

Mark Parker



The St. Petersburg City Council selected John (Muhammad) Malone to serve as its District 7 representative Thursday. Screengrab.

After several weeks of turmoil, District 7, which includes several predominantly African-American neighborhoods in southwest St. Petersburg, has a new representative.

St. Petersburg City Council members selected John (Muhammad) Malone, a community activist and president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association, to represent District 7 from a pool of six candidates after a four-and-a-half hour Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday. His appointment followed two rounds of voting.

Seven people applied for the position by the Oct. 7 deadline but one, Lorne Abrams, withdrew.

According to city documents, Wengay Newton Sr., a longtime local politician, was the first to apply. He submitted his initial application Sept. 23, while four candidates applied on the cutoff date. Muhammad, whose legal name is John C. Malone, will replace Lisa Wheeler-Bowman on the dais.

Wheeler-Bowman, who represented the area since 2015, resigned Sept. 14 amid allegations that she moved out of the district. Muhamad, 46, will occupy a seat on the council for over a year and will be eligible to run for two full, four-year terms.

“Most of us have worked together for years,” said Muhammad during his closing statement. “During that time, I believe I’ve earned your trust and your confidence, and I’ve proven that I’m a qualified and faithful servant and I will be great on this council.”

The council appointed Muhammad after the six candidates presented introductory and closing statements and answered questions submitted by residents and presented by council members. They will ratify the vote at a subsequent city council meeting Thursday afternoon and swear him in at an Oct. 20 meeting.

Newton and Muhammad emerged from a pool that included Daniel Soronen, Glenn Wilder III, Corey Givens Jr. and Moneer Kheireddine.

Wengay Newton, who previously represented District 7, finished second in the voting. Photo courtesy of

Newton represented the district from 2008 to 2016 before serving in the Florida House of Representatives from 2008 to 2016. He lost the Democratic primary for House District 62 in August and came in fourth during the 2021 St. Petersburg mayoral race.

He was also unsuccessful in his bid for a seat on the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard noted that the council received 17 emails supporting Newton and six in opposition. Residents sent 98 emails in favor of Muhammad, and 49 opposed his candidacy.

“I just wanted to make sure that residents knew they were heard and those emails were received,” said Gabbard. “When I’m casting my vote today, I’m trying to cast the vote that I feel that if the voters would have been given the opportunity, would have been the person they would have chosen.”

Muhammad, a longtime community activist, addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” during his introductory statement:  The council received several emails from residents and local organizations regarding his ardent support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

While the Southern Poverty Law Center has described Farrakhan as an anti-Semite, Muhammad credited the minister for helping him improve his life and the lives of many others.

“I deny any allegation that I am an anti-Semite or anti-LGBTQ,” he said. “It is my hope that should I be appointed, the opportunity will present itself for us to continue to discuss these concerns.”

Councilmember Lisset Hanecwicz relayed that her stepdaughter is Jewish. She said she reviewed several videos and social media posts residents and organizations sent to her that related to Muhammad, along with conducting her own research, and found a preponderance of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ messaging. She became emotional when describing the content and said, “you can’t ignore that.”

Muhammed expressed his consistent commitment to building bridges and noted the diversity in the 98 emails showing support for his candidacy. “The reality is we are different, and we don’t agree,” he said. “And we need to have conversations about those disagreements in a real way and in a substantive way.”

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders said Muhammed was “bearing the brunt of a lot of hate that we have dealt with for years.”

“All you can do is do your best,” added Figgs-Sanders. “And at the end of the day, you have been true. You have been transparent.”

Muhammed also admitted to drug and weapons charges when he was younger, but said there is a story behind his record that people will never see. Candidates and council members brought up the city’s structural racism study.

Councilmember Ed Montanari said the city needed stability and someone familiar with city, county, state and federal politics. He noted St. Petersburg’s inclusivity and said the council needed to “set a very high bar.”

“Once again, I don’t see this as a difficult decision for us,” said Montanari, who cast his vote for Newton. “We need to do the right thing.”

Despite the lengthy discussion around Muhammad’s beliefs, he received four votes to Newton’s three and will serve District 7 and St. Petersburg for 14 months.

Gabbard, Figgs-Sanders and Councilmembers Richie Floyd and Copley Gerdes voted in favor of Muhammad. Chair Gina Driscoll and Hanewicz joined Montanari in support of Newton.




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  1. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    October 14, 2022at11:31 am

    Just because one supports an individual does not mean that one agrees with everything that individual believes. I can testify to that for myself. John is not anti any particular group of humans. He is a lover of ‘people’. I believe that from my association with him.

  2. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    October 14, 2022at4:03 am

    More political foolishness occurring at City Hall. “Weapons charges “ in youth? Anti Semitic? A devotee of Louis Farrakhan? What is wrong with you council people? A tiger doesn’t change its stripes.

    Wengay Newton clearly was the superior candidate!

    You voted for higher taxes for residents, we have pikes of debris all over the city that need disposal. Incompetence amounts at City Hall and council chambers!

    This is what happens when the newspaper is printed twice a week!

  3. Avatar


    October 13, 2022at3:19 pm

    Glad I’m not in District 7! The most qualified and best candidate to work on behalf of the city was Wengay Newton.. the former city council member and former State Representative, but as usual this Council chooses the radical activist..

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