DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter

With the April 8 election a month and a half away, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and the city’s union workers are fielding rival slates of candidates for a proposed citizen’s commission to reform the City Charter.

At stake is the balance of power in City Hall adding some spice to what otherwise might be an academic debate over the need to update the city’s 72-year-old charter.

Riordan’s candidates are expected to advocate more authority for the Mayor’s Office. Candidates backed by the city unions, meanwhile, are likely to push for a continuation of the strong council, weak-mayor form of government.

Since Riordan’s election in 1993, the City Council has scaled back or thwarted efforts by Riordan to contract work to private companies or to demand more productivity from city workers.

Union leaders and their allies on the council contend the charter reform effort is a simple power grab.

“If this is just about giving more power to the mayor, we’re not really interested,” said Julie Butcher, acting general manager of Service Employees International Union Local 347, which represents 10,000 blue-collar government workers, 6,500 of them in the City of L.A. “If we’re going to do this, we want to really empower folks.”

But Riordan said last week that the candidates he is supporting for the charter reform commission do not have a common goal other than they are “independently minded people who are going to take their jobs very seriously and get the job done.”

“I have not said what I want in the charter. I will discuss it publicly in coming weeks, but I have not talked about it with (the candidates),” Riordan said.

Riordan’s charter reform campaigns Yes on Charter Reform, Citizens to Turn L.A. Around and Citizens for a Better Los Angeles had collectively raised more than $1.1 million dollars last year, with $575,000 of that directly out of Riordan’s pocket.

Citizens for a Better Los Angeles, the organization devoted to supporting Riordan’s endorsed candidates for the charter commission, alone raised $556,500 last year.

Though few of the 58 charter candidates are promoting themselves yet in the form of advertisements or mailers, six have already won the endorsement of Riordan, who contributed $575,000 of his own money to the charter reform effort.

An additional 15 candidates have won or are expected to win the endorsement of the SEIC Local 347, the largest union of city workers in L.A.

As of last week, the mayor’s picks for who should have a hand in rewriting the 680-page charter, which serves as the city’s constitution, included Marvin R. Selter, chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, in the 2nd City Council district; Helen Bernstein, former head of United Teachers-Los Angeles, in the 4th district; and Christine M. Robert, Community Redevelopment Agency commissioner, in the 9th district.

Also picked by Riordan were Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Service Center, in the 13th district; Jose de Jesus Legaspi, a water and power commissioner, in the 14th district; and Jerry L. Gaines, a high school teacher, in the 15th district.

Butcher said city unions are expected to put up $500,000 to back their candidates. Those candidates endorsed by SEIC Local 347 include Dennis P. Zine, director of the Police Protective League; USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky; former Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson; and Janice Hahn, sister of L.A. City Attorney James K. Hahn.

Also among those endorsed by the union are Marcos Castaneda, legislative deputy for Councilman Richard Alarcon, and Woody Fleming, building and safety field deputy for Councilwoman Rita Walters.

The April 8 ballot measure will allow voters to decide whether or not they want a 15-member commission to review and rewrite the city’s charter.

The candidates will only be elected to the commission if voters first approve creation of the panel.

In addition to support from Riordan and labor, individual members of the City Council are also expected to endorse charter reform commission candidates within their districts, but no official City Council slate is expected.

Among others who are working on campaigns related to charter reform is Harvey Englander, a senior vice president with Kamber Group, a downtown L.A. consulting firm.

He met with several City Council members, as well as labor union organizers, business leaders and community activists earlier this month to raise funds for an “informational” campaign.

Englander last week said no candidates have been selected for endorsement by his group, but that he is consulting with City Council members, the Mayor’s Office, business people and community leaders to form a slate.

Closer to the election, the group will have a “slate mail program designed to communicate issues about the charter reform process,” he said.

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