Mary Fant Donnan collected a key endorsement today in the runoff contest for the Democratic nomination for state labor commissioner. Robin Anderson, the Raleigh lawyer who finished a close fourth in the first primary, announced that she is supporting Donnan.

On her blog at, Anderson cited “my deep concern for the workers of North Carolina due to the failures of the current administration, and my commitment to defeat the ‘elevator lady’ [Republican incumbent Cherie Berry].”

The Department of Labor licenses elevators, and Berry’s picture is prominent in them.

The Charlotte Observer which endorsed Anderson the first time around, yesterday shifted its support to Donnan, calling her “smart” and “capable” and the choice to defeat Berry.

Berry frosted the Observer last year when she blew off its investigative reporting about the working conditions in North Carolina poultry plants:

“People who work for a living should consider the stakes in this runoff. An Observer investigation into poultry processing in the Carolinas uncovered how lax oversight and loopholes in rules have allowed that dangerous industry to exploit workers and underreport crippling injuries. Yet her department’s appalling record did not bother Ms. Berry, the incumbent.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” she said. “That’s unacceptable. A change in leadership is essential. Choosing a Democratic nominee is the first step. We enthusiastically recommend Mary Fant Donnan for labor commissioner.”

Early voting in the runoff contest starts tomorrow, June 5 and ends at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Votes can be cast at county board of elections offices, generally during regular business hours with some offices also open Saturday, June 14 and/ or the final Saturday.

Runoff election day is Tuesday, June 24.

In the first round of voting May 6, Donnan was the leader with 27 percent of the vote. The other three candidates each finished with 24 percent, with former labor commissioner John Brooks nosing out Anderson and Ty Richardson for second-place. Brooks then called for what will inevitably be a costly, low-turnout runoff.

Some 1.2 million Democrats voted for labor commissioner in the first round, a number swelled by the turnout in the Obama-Clinton presidential primary.

A tiny percentage will return for the runoff, especially since it’s the only statewide office on the ballot and the lone office on the ballot in many counties, including Wake County, where there are no local runoffs.

A similar statewide runoff four years ago for the Democratic nomination for superintendent of public instruction drew fewer than 100,000 voters.

Conducting a statewide runoff will cost the state between $3.5 and $4 million, according to Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Donnan served as policy director in the Department of Labor under former Democratic Commissioner Harry Payne. She’s now a program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

Payne ousted Brooks in the 1992 Democratic primary after the worst industrial accident in North Carolina history, the 1991 chicken plant fire in Hamlet that killed 25 workers. The workers were locked in and couldn’t escape; the plant had never had a safety inspection.