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Former Pittsburgh City Council President and state Sen. James Ferlo dies at 70

Noah Brode
90.5 WESA

Former state senator, city councilor president and community advocate James Ferlo has died.

The 70-year-old from Highland Park was an active supporter of causes that included better relations with Cuba and saving the landmark Syria Mosque. He became the state's first openly gay Senator after coming out publicly during a debate about an LGBT hate crimes bill.

He also was a key player in opposing a failed bid to remake Downtown with high-end retail. His death was announced Sunday by Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa Sunday.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Sunday night ordered the commonwealth flag on all commonwealth facilities, public buildings and grounds to fly at half-staff in recognition of Ferlo's death.

“As we mourn the loss of Sen. Jim Ferlo, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and community,” Wolf said.

“Jim was a good man and a better leader who always stood up for what is right," Wolf added. "The people of western Pennsylvania have lost a dedicated advocate, and Pennsylvania has lost a true public servant.”

A native of Rome, New York, Ferlo began his political career in Pittsburgh as a community activist in Oakland before joining the staff of then-City Controller Tom Flaherty. in 1987, he was elected to Pittsburgh City Council, where he would spend 15 years — including three as its president.

Ferlo then ran for and won a seat in the state Senate, where he represented city neighborhoods as well as northern suburbs and portions of the Alle-Kiski Valley.

In 2014, Ferlo announced during a news conference with other Democrats that he was gay in an effort to urge the passage of legislation adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's hate crime law.

He also made a brief run for Pittsburgh mayor in 2013. He left the Senate after redistricting changed the shape and makeup of his once heavily Democratic district.

Funeral arrangements are pending.