CANDIDATE FORUM—A.J. Richardson stood out against the other mayoral candidates. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Whether the topic was economic development, gun violence, or diversity, most of the candidates running for mayor had similar answers to questions posed at a debate on April 6. All of them that it is, except for mayoral candidate A.J. Richardson who was arrested last week for drunk driving.
“I think most of you know I just got out of jail,” Richardson said in response to the opening question about employment opportunities for ex-offenders. “People need to be given second and third chances because if they don’t have that, they’re going to get their hustle on to provide for their families.”
In his comments, Richardson seemed to be advocating for a second chance for ex-offenders, but also himself, and the audience was quick to oblige as they laughed at his remarks and ferociously applauded. However, by the end of the debate as Richardson’s responses veered wildly from his opponents, the audience’s applause died down.
Candidates Jack Wagner, county auditor general, District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto, State Rep. Jake Wheatley, and Richardson were asked to address city-county consolidation, diversity on the police force, education and more over the course of the 90-minute debate sponsored by the African American Leadership Association, Black Political Empowerment Project, Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly and other organizations.
In many situations, such as questions about community development block grants and blight, Richardson reiterated the problems in the Black community without saying how he would address them. And when it came to a question regarding sole source contracts, which many believe hinder minority contractors, Richardson didn’t have a response at all and said he would have to do more research and consult with experts.
While Richardson proposed increased support for jitney drivers, when asked about improving public transportation, his opponents discussed Port Authority’s service cuts.
“I will advocate for more funding, but it’s not just about more funding. We have an antiquated system,” Wheatley said. “My district has been hurt hardest by cuts.”
One area where all four candidates agreed was with regard to the relationship between employment and crime. The men said increased economic opportunity could lead to a decrease in gun violence.
“If you don’t have a job and you get a job, a lot of your problems go away and no community knows that better than the African-American community where the unemployment rate is double that of anywhere else,” Wagner said.
The candidates also discussed recent issues with the Pittsburgh police, the appointment of a new police chief and the importance of the Citizens Police Review Board. Here Peduto differed from his opponents in advocating for a national search for the next chief and focusing on the importance of holding the city’s public safety director accountable.
The mayoral primary is May 21.