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New mayor ready to serve people of Benton Harbor

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Dec 29, 2015 - 3:31:39 PM

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With his wife Abisayo by his side, Marcus Muhammad is officially sworn in as Mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan by former Chief Justice of Berrien County Judge Alfred Butzbaugh Dec. 23. Photo: Haroon Rajaee
BENTON HARBOR, Michigan—With the city council’s chambers filled to capacity with supporters and well-wishers, Marcus Muhammad was sworn in as mayor.

Former Chief Justice of Berrien County Judge Alfred Butzbaugh conducted the official swearing in ceremony. Mr. Muhammad officially started his term as mayor January 1, 2016 and is anxious to get to work to serve city residents.

“I’d like to thank the residents who make this city move,” said Mayor Muhammad. “The real work starts now. Together we can and will rebuild Benton Harbor,” said the new mayor, who is also a member of the Nation of Islam.

Benton Harbor’s population of a little over 10,000 is at its lowest numbers in over a century. The city is 89 percent Black with a median income of $17,300, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.

Well-wishers and supporters from around the state, most notably Grand Rapids and Detroit were on hand to witness the ceremony. Village of Dolton, Illinois Mayor Riley Rogers sent a letter of congratulations with words of encouragement via Trustee Duane Muhammad, who was also recently elected to political office.

Capturing 60 percent of the vote, Marcus Muhammad said his top priority is working for the people in cooperation with the city’s elected commissioners to turn the blighted town into an example of renewal for all to see. He also wants to strengthen bonds with Berrien County’s elected officials.

“The city of Benton Harbor must have a strong relationship with our county government for us to be successful,” he noted.

An Emergency Financial Manager, put in place by then Gov. Jennifer Granholm, was removed in 2014 and now there is a Receivership Transition Advisory Board in place that reviews and approves all resolutions by the city council. The elected Benton Harbor officials are not yet in full local control, but in terms of day-to-day affairs and operating the city, control has been restored, placing the small city on the path to self-determination, Mr. Muhammad noted. The elected officials have some control over city finances and budgeting but it’s not absolute.

Well known throughout the community as a legendary high school athlete and native son, Mr. Muhammad was elected as a Commissioner-at-Large in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. He also served as mayor pro tem from 2010 to 2012.

Pamela Benson was one of Mr. Muhammad’s high school classmates. She remembers him as an “awesome athlete” and would like to see his administration solve the problem of youth violence.

“As far as being a leader, if he can get the kids together, unite them and stop all of the violence and make a change in Benton Harbor, that would be a great thing!” she said Dec. 21.

Lifelong Benton Harbor resident Tamika Hunter agreed.

“We need something for the children,” said Ms. Hunter. “They have nothing right now.”

Larry Jackson believes the new mayor has “a great opportunity to bring new accountability and organization” to the city’s governmental operations.

“We need community unity, and commissioner unity. That’s the only way is to work together and have an impact,” said Mr. Jackson.

In 2009, Rev. Duane Seats II, then a 33-year-old pastor of Abundant Life Church, and Marcus Muhammad ran for two open commissioner’s seats and received the two highest vote totals among those running to fill the at-large posts. Their cooperation was a great example of Muslim and Christian unity.

“It’s a great joy and an honor and a privilege to have served and to serve with somebody who I know loves the people and will fight for the rights of the people and will not be dictated by big business or the other dollar,” said Rev. Seats. “I think that this city will move forward in a better and greater measure and I think the hand of God is on brother Marcus Muhammad.”