Candidates in runoff focus on labor issues

State labor commissioner candidates John Brooks and Mary Fant Donnan said in Charlotte Thursday that they fear a one-race ballot will attract few voters to the polls on Tuesday.

Brooks and Donnan face each other in a Democratic runoff. They spoke before the Uptown Democratic Forum, encouraging members to tell others to vote.

As of midafternoon Thursday, 57 voters had cast ballots early in Mecklenburg County, according to the county's board of elections. There were 42,800 early voters in the county for the May 6 primary.

None of the four candidates in the May primary received 40 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between the top two finishers.

The Democratic nominee will run against the current labor commissioner, Republican Cherie Berry, in November.

Brooks and Donnan on Thursday criticized Berry's reaction to a series of stories that ran in the Observer in February that uncovered violations in the state's poultry industry. In an interview with the newspaper after the series, Berry said she would not change how the agency is run.

“Our department has the best safety record and fatality record we've had in many, many years,” she said in an interview with the Observer in March.

Donnan said the series, which exposed the handling of workplace injuries, itself made her upset.

“But I think I felt equally sad at the editorial response from our current commissioner,” she said. Donnan, a first-time candidate, was the director of research in the Labor Department under former Commissioner Harry Payne.

Both candidates said it was time for a labor commissioner who looks out for worker safety.

“The current commissioner is not an advocate of the working people,” Brooks said.

Brooks said the presidential race had overshadowed their campaigns in the primary and the runoff has allowed them to talk more about labor issues.

Donnan said the runoff was helping get the Democrats' names out to the public.