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Cathy Costello to focus on mental health in workplace if elected to Labor Commission

Alicia Fraire / Red Dirt Report
Cathy Costello hopes to be Oklahoma's next Labor Commissioner.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – It has been more than two years since Labor Commissioner Mark Costello died, having been stabbed to death by his mentally ill son Christian at a local ice cream parlor.

It was a shocking and tragic turn of events for the family of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, a friendly and outgoing guy who, while being a Republican, had friends across the aisle - and even convinced 60's pop singer Donovan to allow him to use his song "Mellow Yellow" in a campaign advertisement when he first ran.

And despite the horror and grief that befell the Costello family since that time - Commissioner Costello having died in his wife Cathy’s arms – this widow, who is optimistic and forward-thinking by nature, believes she is the best person to steer the Department of Labor in a positive direction, while making mental health advocacy a key part of her role, if she is elected in November 2018.

And yet for those struggling with mental illness, a steady job can seem out of reach. Costello wants to amp up the Labor Department's role in highlighting mental health issues in the workforce, a problem to not only causes problems for the person struggling, but it also leads to low productivity in the workplace, while leading to employers paying as much as $600 million extra on mental health issues.

"One in four Oklahomans struggle with mental health," she said, giving an approximate number of 900,000 people.

"Working is a very integral part of who we are," Costello told Red Dirt Report during a visit to our offices. "(Job of Commissioner) is non-partisan and I'm worried about all Oklahomans." 

If elected, she said, she would pull together a task force called the Costello Commission on Mental Health in the Workplace. After all, after her husband's death, this busy working mom who runs her own businesses, helped pass the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello AOT Bill and the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act in Washington. 

Costello is very candid about her son Christian's struggles with mental illness, recalling how he would ask his parents to remindhim to take his medication. 

"We did everything we could to help our son," she said.

Mental health, she reiterated, is an "area the Labor Commison can shed light on." As she told Red Dirt Report's Heide Brandes back in August: "It is time that the Department of Labor examines, recognizes and addresses the impact of mental health on the wage earner and the employer."

Since announcing her decision to run, back in early August, Cathy Costello has been traversing around the state meeting all sorts of folks, noting a recent visit to Miami, Okla. where the trained opera singer got a chance to sing in the historic Coleman Theatre, and stand on the very spot where Bing Crosby crooned "White Christmas" for the second time in his life. Costello said the opportunity was an honor and pleasure adding that the theatre is a hidden gem in the state.

Cathy Costello at the offices of Red Dirt Report. (Alicia Fraire / Red Dirt Report)

The Overland Park, Kansas native was also recently the featured speaker at an event in New Jersey, speaking to members of that state’s legislature at a breakfast.

Saying that she would work with the Department of Commerce to encourage job promotion, she says part of her focus would be to focus on keeping Oklahoma's kids in the state. "We want our kids to stay here in Oklahoma," she said, adding that she would work hard to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

That means that advocating more jobs - and more jobs - will be very important in cultivating Oklahoma's future workforce.

“A lot of people are saying that they have jobs they can’t fill,” she said. “A lot of ‘help wanted’ signs are out, particularly in southeastern Oklahoma.” People, she said, are looking for better jobs, and going to surrounding states seeking them. It is very important the state works as hard as possible to create an environment that is not over-regulated, so jobs can flourish, rather than dying on the vine.

Asked about workplace safety, Costello said it would be a key part of the department's mission, as it has always been

Costello knows her late husband would be pleased to know she was working to be Oklahoma's next Labor Commissioner (appointed Labor Commissioner Melissa Houston is not running for the position) building on his legacy, noting that people tell her she has leadership skills while also "showing a lot of courage" these past two years since her husband's death. 

But she also wants to move forward in this next stage in her life - hopefully, she notes, leading the Department of Labor.

"I have a passion for it (Department of Labor)," she said. "Passion comes from purpose." 

"Mark loved life. He loved everybody. I'm so happy he got to serve in office," she said, adding, "I am privileged to have been his wife for 34 years."

Cathy Costello will face Mustang-based legislator Leslie Osborn in the June 2018 Republican primary. To learn more about her candidacy go here.

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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