OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The widow of slain Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello asked Gov. Mary Fallin Tuesday to appoint her to the remaining three-plus years of her late husband's unexpired term.
Cathy Costello made the request in a letter delivered to Fallin's office in which she urges the governor to name her Labor Commissioner "to continue the work Mark began, that I will successfully bring to fruition."
"Governor, I am ready, willing, qualified and energized to continue the work that Mark started at the Department of Labor," the letter states.
Mark Costello, 59, was stabbed to death on Aug. 23 at an Oklahoma City restaurant while meeting with his son, Christian Costello, 26. Christian Costello is charged with first-degree murder, and a not guilty plea has been entered on his behalf.
Christian Costello's family has said that he suffers from a mental illness, and court records show that in the past he had spent 90 days in a mental health facility and taken mood stabilizers.
Mark Costello was serving his second term as labor commissioner. He was first elected in 2010 when he ousted the incumbent Democrat during a Republican sweep of statewide offices and easily won re-election last year. His term as labor commissioner expires in January 2019 and he apparently was considering running for lieutenant governor.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cathy Costello described her desire to succeed her husband as "a mission" to continue his work to improve the mental health system in Oklahoma while promoting workplace safety.
"I can't just lay down and quit. I've got to make sense of this," she said. "Mark did not die in vain. There are things that we can do."
A spokesman for the governor said there is no timeline for filling the Labor Commissioner's position. Fallin has appointed Deputy Commissioner Stacy Bonner as acting commissioner.
"Governor Fallin is looking for a good administrator with a conservative philosophy on government, who is committed to making government run more efficiently and effectively," said communications director Alex Weintz. "She has not yet made her selection."
In her letter, Cathy Costello, 56, said she and her husband had been a team since they were married in January 1982 and that many of the initiatives her husband launched in the Department of Labor were discussed with her in detail while he was in office. She also said she has "complete knowledge" of his future plans for the office.
The letter says state law allows the surviving spouse of an elected official who dies in office who is otherwise qualified to serve to be eligible to be appointed to the official's unexpired term. In U.S. history, the so-called Widow's Mandate has allowed 48 women to continue the work of their husbands as their successors, it says.
The letter coincides with the release of a video in which she says 2 million Americans are killed or injured by violence in the workplace each year and that many of the incidents are tied to mental illness. Oklahoma is second in nation in the prevalence of mental illness, she says.
"This is not only a family issue, this is an Oklahoma issue," she says.
Costello told The Associated Press she "shared everything" with her husband, including his discussions with state lawmakers about initiatives to improve the state's mental health system — work she said she wants to continue.
"My heart is in this for the right reason," Costello said. "I'm not a politician. I'm not looking for a pension."
She said she did not know if she would seek election to the office when her husband's term expires.
"I didn't know two weeks ago that I would do this," Costello said. "We never know what tomorrow's going to bring."
The letter is her second to Fallin regarding her late husband's job. In a separate letter dated Aug. 31, Costello asked that the governor name either Department of Labor chief of staff Jim Marshall to the position, or herself if the governor is inclined to name someone else.
At least one other person has expressed an interest in the Labor Commissioner's job. Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said a number of people have contacted him to determine if he is interested.
"I said it would be an honor to be considered but I have not spoken to the governor," Maughan said. "I think I could do the job. But I would stress that it is obviously the governor's decision and I respect whatever she decides."
Cathy Costello video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/SMrZ\_MLAhv4