Politics & Government

NC Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry says she won’t run in 2020

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry won’t run for a sixth term in 2020.

Berry, a Republican, made the announcement Tuesday at a meeting of the NC Council of State in downtown Raleigh.

Members of the council stood and applauded after her announcement. Gov. Roy Cooper thanked Berry for letting the bipartisan group of elected officials know first. Berry, 72, has held the office since 2001, after serving in the state House.

Two Democrats have announced they are running for labor commissioner, The News & Observer has reported: Jessica Holmes, an attorney and the Wake County Board of Commissioners chairwoman, and Eva F. Lee, a Raleigh tax attorney.

In a typically low-profile job, Berry has become widely known in part because her photo can be seen in North Carolina’s elevators, which the labor department inspects. She acknowledged that those photos, along with her name that is usually mispronounced as a rhyme, helped her gain popularity. (It’s actually pronounced Shuh-REE Berry.)

She laughed about it in a brief interview Tuesday morning with The N&O.

“I was surprised that it kind of took on a life of its own and become the kind of cult-thing that it is,” she said, adding that she regulates about 28,000 elevators across the state.

A parody Twitter account refers to her as the “Elevator Queen.” Songs have been written about her.

Berry’s popularity hasn’t always shielded her from controversy.

Some believe the elevator photos gave Berry an unfair advantage in elections. Charles Meeker, her Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, said he’d remove the photos if elected, as reported by Indyweek.

Berry believes the photos are reassuring. She said little kids “don’t pitch a fit when they get on (elevators) because they think and believe that I will keep them safe. I love the little kids and the way they look at it.”

Berry’s biggest accomplishment, she says, has been partnering with businesses that need help improving workplace safety.

“We’ve gotten the Department of Labor a presence with the people of North Carolina that we’re not a regulatory agency so much as we’re an agency that will partner with them and will help them achieve safe workplaces,” she said Tuesday.

Her business-friendly strategy has also prompted criticism. A News & Observer series, “The Reluctant Regulator,” chronicled Berry’s department’s slow response to helping workers who got stiffed by their employers.

Without being specific, Berry alluded to some of that criticism on Tuesday. But said she’s proud of the work she’s done.

Businesses are “calling us now and asking for our help and that’s what we’ve been trying to have happen,” she said.

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