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East Baton Rouge Mayor-President candidate Steve Carter speaks during a debate with his runoff opponent, incumbent East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, in an event hosted by the Baton Rouge Press Club, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens.

Steve Carter, a three-term state representative who frequently spoke of his love for Baton Rouge, and ran for mayor-president last year with the hope of leading the city, died Tuesday night of complications from the coronavirus. He was 77.

“It is with very heavy hearts we report that Steve has lost his battle with COVID-19 tonight, surrounded by his family,” said family spokesperson Charlotte Melder in a statement. 

Melder said Carter passed away around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Carter had been hospitalized with the virus three weeks ago.

Carter, a Republican, had represented a part of Baton Rouge in House District 68 for three consecutive terms, beginning in 2007. He was chairman of the House Education Committee from 2012 through 2015. 

At the Legislature, he developed a reputation as an affable politician who was willing to tackle controversial issues and reach across party aisles. As they mourned news of his death Tuesday, Carter's colleagues from the Legislature commended his work in the House chamber and his kindness outside of it. Many described him as an advocate for children and their futures. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards said late Tuesday that he would order flags flown at half-staff on the day of Carter's funeral, and he asked the state to join his family in praying for Carter's.

"Steve served the Baton Rouge community in the Louisiana Legislature for 12 years, and I was honored to serve with him during that time," Edwards said.

Carter shepherded high-profile bills that expanded school vouchers statewide and toughened teacher tenure rules. He failed at his attempt in 2017 to increase the state gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon, or $510 million per year, to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Carter also served as chairman of the Capital Region Legislative Delegation.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, remembered their work together on Tuesday, calling Carter "a dear friend."

“I spoke with him during his mayoral run and he was the same energetic guy and full of life," James said. "I hate to hear that this virus has taken another dedicated public servant."

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Carter is one of a handful of Louisiana public officials who have died from coronavirus-related complications. Newly elected U.S. Congressman Luke Letlow died shortly after Christmas after being hospitalized with the virus, and state Rep. Reggie Bagala died in April. 

Before entering the political arena, Carter coached tennis at LSU, once to an SEC championship, and remained a major supporter of the university, his alma mater.

Interim LSU President Tom Galligan, said in a statement that Carter was a "good friend" and "great supporter of LSU." Carter graduated from the University Lab School and served in student government during his undergraduate studies.

Carter was also a U.S. Air Force veteran. 

After being term-limited in the Louisiana House of Representatives, Carter unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate. Later, he set his sights on the East Baton Rouge mayor-president's office. He won 20% of the vote in a crowded Nov. 3 primary election for mayor last year, putting him a runoff with incumbent Sharon Weston Broome. Broome defeated him in the Dec. 5 runoff, 57% to 43%.

Even in defeat, he spoke of his desire to work with others to make Baton Rouge a better place. In his concession speech in December, he lifted up the town he called home.

“I’m very concerned about that for the safety of the citizens of our parish and hopefully we can turn that around," Carter said, referring to the parish's high homicide rate. "I don’t want to be negative about our city. I want to be positive about our city because I love our city."

Broome recalled their fall campaign Tuesday night and mourned Carter's death.

“You never saw him without a smile on his face and a hand extended to greet you,” she said. “Steve was a Baton Rougean through and through. I am tremendously sad to have lost yet another friend and neighbor to COVID-19.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve’s family and his many friends as we mourn his great loss."

Carter is survived by his wife, Gloria, two children and several grandchildren. 

Staff writers Terry L. Jones, Blake Paterson and Andrea Gallo contributed to this report. 

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