For nearly two decades North Carolina's labor commissioner has had his or her picture on the inspection forms tacked inside elevators. Commissioner Josh Dobson, who isn't running for re-election next year, has ended the practice. The 'Elevator Queen' objects.
By TRAVIS FAIN, WRAL
The most iconic thing about the North Carolina labor commissioner’s office is going down: His mug on elevator inspection certificates.
Those pictures — the ones that stare at you while you try to avoid eye contact with strangers — had become such a mainstay North Carolina life and politics that Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson’s predecessor, Cherie Berry, was widely known as “The Elevator Queen.”
Dobson, who won office in 2020 after Berry retired, said he never really embraced the practice. So when the certification form was redesigned to add a new sentence, he dropped the picture.
Berry took the news hard.
“Whaaaaaaat?” she said Monday, when reached by phone in a grocery store checkout line.
“I think it’s a mistake, but hey that’s just me,” Berry said.
Dobson will be a one-term commissioner, having announced late last year that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2024. He said Monday that the Department of Labor, which handles elevator inspections and a wide-range of other jobs, updated the inspection form earlier this year to make it clear certifications don’t expire. They stay “in effect until the next periodic inspection,” according to a sentence added to the new form.
WRAL News reported in September that nearly 5,000 elevators, escalators and lifts — including an elevator at the Department of Labor itself — were past due for annual safety inspections. Dobson blamed rapid growth in the state and the difficulty of keeping inspector positions filled.
Most state agencies have struggled with hiring and retaining employees in recent years. Vacant positions in state agencies have hovered near historic levels.
The new forms are making their way into elevators around the state as new inspections are completed. Dobson said the pictures made people focus more on him instead of Department of Labor employees and that he wants the focus “on them and the hard work they do.”
Berry added her picture in about 2005. Some pointed out that it amounted to free campaign advertising, but Berry said she never heard anyone but her political opponents complain.
“The public loved it,” she said. “We did it because we wanted people to know there’s an actual person, they could put a face to government. But it kind of grew into a thing.”
Berry’s image became so ubiquitous that she inspired a song by a band called “Tha Commissioners," who exclaimed that their unbridled love for her was “so scary — the way I gotta trust you,” noting that she was the “last thing I see in the workplace.”
Whoever succeeds Dobson in the job may bring the pictures back, and Dobson said he wouldn’t fault them if they do.
Luke Farley, an attorney who borrowed his “Make Elevators Great Again” campaign slogan from former President Donald Trump, is a Republican candidate in the race for Labor Commissioner.
For Farley, who Berry has endorsed, there’s no question about this issue. People don’t know much about who’s responsible for state government, he said, and without those pictures they'll know less.
“It’s a tradition that I think people expect to be continued,” he said.