The Fascinating Case of A.J. Richardson, the Candidate for Mayor of Pittsburgh Whose Face Is Covered in Tattoos

by Adam Reger

Pittsburgh’s in the midst of a primary campaign for mayor—a Democratic primary, anyway, which in this city is the de facto general election—and so far the greatest storyline to emerge has been A.J. Richardson. He’s originally from Brooklyn, he’s working at present as a bus monitor on the city’s North Side, he’s never held elected office, and, last but not least, his face is covered in tattoos.

Seriously. This is A.J. Richardson:


I’ve mostly been reading about him through mainstream media—here’s a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review profile; here’s a CBS Local piece on how he’s not an underdog; and here’s a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece on his decision to plead guilty to DUI charges after a Tuesday night incident—and so I can’t say with any certainty whether or not—

Wait, what? Yep. This tattoo-faced dude was found in a green minivan, engine running, passed out or in a deep stupor in the middle of a road in Pittsburgh’s West End late Tuesday night. Cops honked at the minivan and when there was no answer they pounded on the window. Richardson declined a breathalyzer test but failed the cops’ field sobriety tests. Asked about it the next day, Richardson said the arrest was part of a conspiracy; “It’s a weak, feeble attempt to discredit me.”

I can’t tell if this twist makes me enjoy the A.J. Richardson saga more or less. No one was hurt, but still drunk driving is never funny. But then again it has made it all the more strange to see various media reporting on Richardson’s comments and debate appearances with entirely straight faces.

To be fair, nothing I’ve heard Richardson say is unreasonable. His angle is that he’s never held office, so he’s a fresh voice, will be a fighter for the working man, will sweep out corruption, etc. His campaign website is appropriately vague and positive-minded, and his “Project X”—a plan to ID areas where heavy drug-dealing is happening, to help the police target those areas and not entire communities—is certainly better than some policies.

But man. I just can’t get past those face tattoos. It’s almost like he’s adopted the most extreme body modification I could think of, that is usually associated with white supremacists, prison inmates, rappers with checkered pasts, and basically no one you would characterize as at all wholesome or respectable, and now is also demanding earnest consideration for his adoptive city’s highest office. And, God bless them, most in the media and in the political machinery seem to be doing their best to give it to him.

It’s like everything I love about Pittsburgh is wrapped up in this one news story: weird people, a sort of small-town quality that invites this sort of quixotic campaign, and a widespread niceness, or at least politeness, that has prevented the masses from laughing this guy out of the room.

Anyway, I hope I haven’t been too harsh on him. He seems, on the whole, like a nice guy, and you’ve got to love these kinds of grand, doomed gestures. He has zero chance of winning the Democratic primary, but I’d like to think that the city will measure each candidate by his positions, his record, and his actions, and that it will be these things—his lack of a record or any relevant experience, his unconscionable DUI arrest in the middle of a campaign—that cause him not to be elected, and not all the shit inked into his face.