Michael J. LoCurto, the former Delaware District Common Council member who resigned his seat to take a post in the Poloncarz administration, died early Friday.
LoCurto, who had undergone a kidney transplant in 2009 and battled illness his entire life, had reportedly been under Hospice care. He was 46.
County officials Friday morning confirmed his death but had few other details.
In a prepared statement expressing his condolences, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said LoCurto "served honorably and with great skill and integrity as deputy commissioner ... until he could no longer do so due to his illness. An urban planner by training, Mike brought to the position the eye of a highly educated professional, but also the understanding of the public’s needs due to his decade of service on the Buffalo Common Council."
Poloncarz said LoCurto "was passionate about public service and brought that passion to work every day he served in my administration."
"However, Mike LoCurto was more than a member of my administration, he was also a friend," Poloncarz said. "While he could be very serious and cared deeply for our community, he had a great sense of humor and could put any person at ease. It is that seriousness mixed with humor that made him the great leader he was for Buffalo and Erie County.”
LoCurto was an aide to then-Assemblyman Sam Hoyt when he was tapped by Democrats in March 2006 to fill the Delaware District Council seat vacated when Marc A. Coppola was elected to the State Senate.
He was in his 10th year when he resigned from the Council in July 2015 to become deputy commissioner in the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning. LoCurto, who had a master's degree in urban and regional planning, called the move a "tough decision."
When he resigned from the Council, city lawmakers praised him for his independence, intelligence and willingness to take on issues such as support for participatory budgeting, gay rights and opposition to big-box development on the waterfront. He said at the time that he viewed his Council role as an opportunity to "give voice to people who often don't have a voice in government."
Council President Darius G. Pridgen remembered LoCurto for his quiet demeanor and his work ethic when it came to representing the Delaware District.
"Some may have taken his quietness for absence," but he was a fighter for his district in meetings, Pridgen said, recalling that LoCurto was the first Council member to approach him about seeking the presidency.
He also recalled LoCurto encouraging him to make a public statement when the "hands up, don't shoot" movement was gaining public attention. By the time Pridgen arrived on the steps of City Hall on a cold day, LoCurto was already out there.
"It was important, when you think about what was happening at this point," Pridgen said, recalling the divisions that occurred in response to the movement. He said LoCurto never let the backlash stop him from speaking out.
"He thought it was important for him to stand up and have a voice," Pridgen said.
In 2014, LoCurto received an award from the Coalition for Economic Justice, which cited his work on the city's living wage law, his efforts to get a community benefits agreement for Canalside development and to get a "Little Italy" designation to help market the Hertel Avenue business district in North Buffalo.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan remembered LoCurto as a "great friend with a wonderful sense of humor" and a "progressive leader."
"Mike was a shining example of what is best about our democracy," Ryan said. "Throughout his life, his mantra was to always do what is best for the community."
LoCurto fulfilled such public duties despite a series of medical issues that temporarily took him away from the job.
In 2007, he was diagnosed with kidney disease and two years later he underwent a transplant, receiving a kidney from Kate Foster, his partner of five years at the time. "It's certainly better than the iPhone I got from her for Christmas," he joked, before calling the transplant "a tremendous gift."
The odds that Foster, who was head of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, would prove a suitable match for her companion made LoCurto's battle all the more compelling.
But it wasn't his first transplant. Thirteen years earlier, LoCurto had undergone a heart and liver transplant.
The couple talked to The Buffalo News in an effort to raise awareness about organ transplants and the need for more donors.
LoCurto, in fact, had fought illness his whole life, from the time he was diagnosed with thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, as a 3-month-old infant. At age 22, he suffered heart failure and became one of the first people in the nation to undergo a heart-liver transplant.
But he never let his illnesses deter him.
"You have to play the cards you're dealt," he told The News in 2009. "I always try to control the circumstances and not let the circumstances control me."
Funeral arrangements had not been released as of late Friday.