Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker wants to unseat Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, but he doesn’t want his photo to appear in all 25,000 elevators in the state.
Berry, a Republican, has smiled at elevator passengers from the state-mandated inspection placards for 10 years. A recent study found that she’s the only state elevator inspection official whose photo is in elevators.
Meeker, a Democrat, says labor commissioners shouldn’t use the inspection placards to raise their profiles. “This picture constitutes self-promotion by a career politician,” he said Wednesday. “It’s an odd practice that doesn’t exist in other states.”
Meeker unveiled the placard design he said he would use if elected in November. Where Berry’s picture appears now, elevator riders would instead see the names and photos of emergency responders and other workers being honored by the N.C. Department of Labor.
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“Let’s replace her picture with those who should be honored – working North Carolinians,” Meeker said. “It ought to be the right symbol.”
Meeker says he would appoint a committee to decide who would be pictured. He also wants to update safety information on the placards and add a “hotline” phone number where people can report employment violations for the department to investigate.
“The safety message isn’t updated and looks like something out of the 1990s,” Meeker said, pointing to a statement that requires elevator injuries to be reported “within 24 hours” by phone or fax.
A recent study by a UNC-Chapel Hill doctoral student found that the photo might help Berry win re-election because it improves her name recognition.
Berry has said the idea for elevator photos came from an aide as a way to “put a face” with the office of labor commissioner. She has said her name – often mispronounced as a rhyme – also makes her memorable (it’s actually pronounced “Sha-REE Berry”).
The photos have inspired a song (lyrics include “you could commission my labor anytime”) and other Internet parodies. Berry embraces it all, and occasionally refers to herself as the “Elevator Lady.”
But Meeker said the photos might not help Berry win another term after a News & Observer series, “The Reluctant Regulator,” that documented problems at the Department of Labor.
“Most people get in the elevator and make fun of it because the department isn’t doing its job,” Meeker said.