With no political past, Abdula Jamal Richardson seeks mayorship
Abdula Jamal Richardson hopes to appeal to Pittsburgh voters as the working man's candidate in the mayoral race.
He's the underdog among seven Democrats in the May 21 primary — perhaps even more of an underdog than Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill, for whom some of the city's 31,429 registered Republicans might vote.
“I am the Rocky Balboa of this race, and the political machine is Apollo Creed,” said Richardson, 36, of Sheraden, who goes by “A.J.”
Richardson on Tuesday filed nominating petitions to run for the seat Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is giving up. A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Richardson said he recognizes he lacks the money and foot soldiers of his rivals, including Sen. Jim Ferlo of Highland Park, Controller Michael Lamb of Mt. Washington, Sen. Jake Wheatley of the Hill District, former state auditor general Jack Wagner of Beechview, Council President Darlene Harris of Spring Hill and Councilman Bill Peduto of Point Breeze.
That's no reason not to run, he said.
“I am running to give a voice to the working men and women in this city,” Richardson said. Much of the city, he thinks, “is not being represented in the current system.”
He listed his occupation as a bus monitor for First Student in the North Side. He runs an online ministry, Mount Sinai 7th Day Holiness Temple of Christ. He sees prejudice, bullying of kids and discrimination against gays as examples of those who are underserved.
He moved to Pittsburgh six years ago with his wife, Felicia, a paralegal with Goehring, Rutter & Boehm, Downtown, and their sons Abdula Jr., Abraham and Aaron.
With facial tattoos and dreadlocks, Richardson is hardly a typical Pittsburgh politician.
He considers his image an asset but said it does not tell his whole story.
“My distinct appearance is only part of me, and some people will be able to connect to that. It is the internal, my integrity, that will win folks over.”
If he were elected by some long shot, Richardson vowed not to operate out of a “cushy” office in City Hall.
“I want the residents of Pittsburgh's front porches to be my office,” he said. “The other politicians have no idea how to be a public servant. There is no one better than me for this position, because I have not been corrupted by politics.”
Traditionally, people seek an office such as mayor after working as a party committee member or serving on City Council or the school board. No modern Pittsburgh mayor has come from the community without moving up through the political machine.
“When he first told me that he was going to run for mayor of Pittsburgh, I thought it was a joke,” said Shawnee Lining of the Hill District, who signed Richardson's petition.
A candidate needs 250 signatures, and when he asked for hers, “I knew it was real,” she said.
Lining, 34, runs Sha'Lou Productions, a theater company in Homestead. She met Richardson when he auditioned for a play.
“He faces a lot of challenges running, and it is a long shot to run as an unknown, but I do see him eventually emerging as a front-runner,” she said.
Chas Lupin, 27, of Stanton Heights, another who signed Richardson's nominating petition, met him on the set of a movie filmed in the city.
Lupin, an actor, said Richardson brings distinct qualities to the race. “He is a dedicated family man who works tirelessly in the community to decrease the drug problem,” he said. “He is compassionate, and what he has to stand on that no one else does is honor.”
Richardson's sons accompanied him when he knocked on doors to let people know of his candidacy.
He may have one huge impediment to winning: Though he loves his adopted city, he's a New York Giants fan.
“But I am very fond of the Black and Gold,” he said.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer.Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.