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Politics & Government

A Republican is Coming to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is as Democratic a city as they come.

The last time the city elected a Republican mayor Franklin Delano Roosevelt was entering his first term as president.

But with redistricting, Democratic State Senator Jim Ferlo, who represents the 38th district, and Republican state Senator Randy Vulakovich, who represents the 40th district, now live within same legislative boundaries. That newly drawn 38th district includes a small portion of Pittsburgh but heavily favors a Republican candidate.

Give the slim chances of being re-elected, Ferlo opted to retire and on Tuesday Vulakovich took the seat without opposition.

“It is what it is,” Ferlo said. “There is no great conspiracy. The Republican majority draws the lines.”

Although redistricting only has Vulakovich representing a portion of Pittsburgh’s East End – including Highland Park and parts of Larimer – the idea of having any Republican representation in the city is new.

“He [Vulakovich] will be invading and crossing the great Allegheny River, coming into the 11th and 12th wards of the city of Pittsburgh,” said outgoing state Senator Ferlo. “I believe that is the first Republican representation of anybody at any level since prior to the Roosevelt administration.”

State Senator Ferlo has held the 38th district seat since 2003. Before redistricting the boundaries included portions of Pittsburgh’s North Side as well as a much larger portion of the East End.

Now the 38th district contains large portions of the North Hills.  Many of these areas, including Wexford and Gibsonia, Vulakovich represented as the senator of the former 40th district.

Before redistricting, the 38th district covered large swaths of suburbs east of Pittsburgh, and those areas made up the largest portion of the district. That said, a lot of Senator Ferlo’s energies went to projects within city limits. He was a known presence within the city and his office is still located on Butler Street in heart of Lawrenceville, which is one of the city's most up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Ferlo does worry what redistricting could do to Pittsburgh’s representation in Harrisburg.

“We [Pittsburgh neighborhoods] are going to be the lesser portion” of the new district, Ferlo said. “I mean that respectfully to Senator Vulakovich, but the core of his district is not going to be the city’s two wards or even some of the towns along the Allegheny.”

Vulakovich said that he was at first “leery” about representing portions of Pittsburgh.

“They tell me three’s never been a Republican, or at least within memory,” he said. “But I’ll tell you I’ve known about this for some time because of redistricting, and [with] the connections I have made throughout the county and city, I’m actually looking forward to it.”

Ferlo, if not as enthusiastic, is at least looking forward to working with the Senator.

“He’s a good person. We have developed a friendship. I’m not happy that he is the Republican and I’m not there anymore as the Democrat, but I think we will be able to have a working relationship.”

Vulakovich does have some ties to the city and its residents.

As a supporter of equitable education for children, Vulakovich has worked with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. He co-hosts the yearly early childhood legislative breakfast – an event that brings together politicians and advocates in order to build support for greater state and federal investment in early childhood education.

“The Senator has been a huge champion of this [early childhood education],” said Michelle Figlar, Executive Director of the PAEYC. “He has come to visit early childhood classrooms with us and he has really seen why it is so important it is to make these investments on the frontend.”

Vulakovich was elected to represent the 40th district back in 2012. Before that he was a state representative.

The new 40th district is now located in the eastern portion of Pennsylvania, near Allentown.