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State Sen. Jim Ferlo won't seek re-election

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 5:21 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Jim Ferlo arrives at the IBEW in the South Side on Sunday, March 10, 2013, for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee's endorsements.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo announced on Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2014, citing changes to his district under the recent legislative redistricting plan.

“It's not politics; (it's) no grand conspiracy by friend or foe,” Ferlo, a Democrat from Highland Park, said on the Senate floor, where he called redistricting a commonplace process in state government and dubbed himself an “in-your-face advocate” for change.

The 38th District that Ferlo has represented since 2002 took on new contours under legislative redistricting and will include the northern portion of Allegheny County. Most of it will cover an area in the more Republican-leaning 40th District, represented by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler.

Democratic Sen. Wayne Fontana's Brookline-based district will absorb parts of Ferlo's district, Ferlo said.

Ferlo, 62, declined to detail plans but pledged to keep serving on the board of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority.

“We've been able to try to respond above and beyond the call of duty to help people, and I'm proud of that,” said Ferlo, who forged a reputation for his outspoken, sometimes outraged demeanor in Harrisburg. “I like to speak from the heart with some level of passion because that's how I think through issues — from a common-sense approach.”

In a prepared statement, Ferlo said he would release a stormwater management vision for Pittsburgh, focus on Social Security and Medicare reforms, and push legislative goals in his final year in office. He vowed to the Tribune-Review that he will keep raising concerns about Marcellus shale drilling.

“I have always found him to be very accessible,” said Karen Snair, executive director of the Harrison-based Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. She sent a homeless mother to Ferlo's Harrison office this week to seek help with food stamps.

His long history in Pittsburgh politics began with his election in 1987 to Pittsburgh City Council, where he served for 14 years — including two terms as the council's president. In the Senate, he serves as minority chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, and minority vice chairman on the Appropriations Committee.

Democratic leaders have talked with a number of people who might be interested in pursuing a party nomination to succeed Ferlo, said Aren Platt, executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. He would not specify how many.

“At this point, the focus is on Senator Ferlo,” Platt said.

Dave Majernik, the vice chairman for the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, called Ferlo's exit an opportunity “for fresh blood and fresh ideas.” He was unaware of any declared GOP candidates for the seat in 2014.

Ferlo “has a big-government mentality and an us-versus-them type of (belief) that's sort of anti-business,” Majernik said. He said that approach “drives jobs away from this area.”

“It's people like Senator Ferlo who have fomented that type of attitude and driven people away,” Majernik said.

But Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, called Ferlo a strong advocate for community and economic development, saying his colleague helped spark urban redevelopment in Pittsburgh.

“I do think there's a segment of our community who feel their voices will be weakened because Jim's leaving the state Senate,” Costa said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com. Staff writers Kari Andren and Adam Smeltz contributed to this report.

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