One key to the measure's passage will be getting support from organized labor.

In municipal elections with no contest for mayor as is the case this year voter turnout tends to be in the 15 percent to 20 percent range. And labor has had a knack for getting out the vote. It did just that by mobilizing voters to defeat Proposition 226 and elect a Democratic slate last November.

"If the unions come on board strongly, they could get out the vote, which would be a huge plus," Klink said.

Until just recently, labor was divided on charter reform. The building trades supported Riordan in his quest to give the mayor unilateral power to fire department heads, while the Service Employees International Union and other city employee unions opposed that provision.

But with Riordan deciding to compromise on the mayoral firing power, the unions are now on board, according to Elected Charter Reform Commission Executive Director Geoffrey Garfield.

With the expectation of low voter turnout, any campaign effort will focus on those most likely to vote and the most effective way to reach those voters is targeted mail and phone campaigns.

A large portion of whatever funds are raised for the campaign will likely be devoted to educating these high-propensity voters on why charter reform is important. Unlike other hot-button issues like crime or health care, charter reform is not an issue with which most people can easily identify.

Elected Charter Reform Commission Chairman Erwin Chemerinsky said the way to do this is to pick out a few themes and hammer them home.

"The problem is not that nobody has heard about the city charter. That's not true, because I'm constantly running into people who ask me about it," Chemerinsky said. "The problem is that for many people, they have the vague sense that city government does not work, but don't exactly know why."

So a campaign that focuses on these issues and how the charter proposal would address them would stand a good chance of succeeding, Chemerinsky said.

Another potential pitfall is that opposition to the charter proposal could form. Already, there has been some grumbling from some civic leaders in the San Fernando Valley and other areas of the city that support secession. They say the charter proposal does not represent real reform because it would not create neighborhood councils with substantial land-use and budgetary authority.

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