As the Stranger Election Death Squad fanned out to Belltown and Bellevue for this year's election-night parties, we weren't anticipating many surprises. The food would suck. The booze would cost money. People would gather around TVs. The politicians would spout clichés. And the candidates who raised the most money (Mark "$704,308" Sidran, for example) would win.

Indeed, as we headed out, we could only cling to the hope that a "secret Nickels vote" would halt Sidran's seemingly inevitable ascent to the mayor's office, and that well-timed propaganda (featuring heroic firemen in "Vote No on I-747" TV commercials) would stop Tim Eyman's control-freak initiative in its tracks.

As the night progressed, however, we were continuously surprised by how tumultuous and how close the initial election results were. At press time, Greg "Nice Guy" Nickels actually had a thrilling, unexpected lead over Sidran (54% over Sidran's paltry 46%). We checked results obsessively, and partied until the wee hours. Here's our field report from the evening.

Greg NickelsParty Locale: Carpenter's Hall at Second and Vine, in Belltown.

Theme: Junior-high dance, with kick-ass blues by Charles White.

Crowd: Racially mixed, unanimously hopeful.

Quality of Spread (Scale of 1-10): 3. Primary offerings were a big fruit platter and nachos, with Pace picante sauce. Delicious pizza was brought in as well.

Best Food Item: Corn cakes with sausage and a toothpick.

Best Exploitation of September 11 Tragedy: N/A. (Single American flag behind podium would have been there, tragedy or no.)

Overall Chances of:

(A) Getting Drunk

Pretty good. Bar offered a 2000 merlot for a $1 suggested donation, or depressing generic soda for free.

(B) Getting Laid

Poor. The crowd consisted of "lots of couples and older people."

(C) Getting Into a Fight

Poor. "Everyone's too shy and tired."

Best Quote (Overheard): "Now I can tell The Seattle Times, 'Neener, neener, neener.'"--Unidentified man.

Best Quote (Manufactured for the Press): "I want to salute Paul Schell for his four years of service, and I want to salute Mark Sidran for his 12 years as city attorney. And we're going to come out of this... with a city that's ready to climb the mountain!"

Most Telling Sign of Things to Come: Nickels didn't show until 10 p.m.

Mark SidranParty Locale: Large, elegant room at 2030 First Avenue in Belltown.

Theme: In a blatant appeal to the gays, Sidran's camp concocted a Wizard of Oz theme: "Sidran has brains! Sidran has heart! Sidran has courage!" In a blatant appeal to middle-aged honkies, Sidran hired a live band to play smooth jazz.

Crowd: Well-dressed and white, including Deborah Senn, Tina Podlodowski, and lots of guys who look like Sidran.

Quality of Spread (Scale of 1-10): A very strong 9. Fabulous catering from the Sorrento Hotel's Hunt Club, Il Fornaio, Kaspar's, and other schmancy local eateries.

Best Food Item: Tall, fluffy crab cakes from Isabella's Ristorante.

Best Exploitation of September 11 Tragedy: Red, white, and blue balloons and American flags hung from every available surface, but the grand prize went to the enormous Old Glory covering an entire wall.

Overall Chances of:

(A) Getting Drunk

Fair. Every attendee was given two free drink tickets, and there was lots of free wine. But repeat bar customers were subjected to the bartender's near-violent urgings to purchase a flashing plastic heart for five bucks. Creepy.

(B) Getting Laid

Not good. The only sexy element in the entire room was the phenomenal bulge sported by the excitable fellow in a skin-tight Tin Man suit.

(C) Getting Into a Fight

Very, very good.

Best Quote (Overheard): After being accosted by infamous anti-off-leash-area activist Ellen Taft, Paul Schell said, "This woman has the sense of humor of a turtle."

Best Quote (Manufactured for the Press): "I'll be back in five minutes."--Mark Sidran (Sidran was out of sight for at least the next half hour, as Nickels took the lead.)

Most Telling Sign of Things to Come: A fully uniformed cop greeted entrants at the door.

Grant CogswellParty Locale: Re-bar, 1114 Howell Street in Denny Regrade.

Theme: Waiting room, with jazz.

Crowd: Progressive white folks who wore sensible shoes.

Quality of Spread (Scale of 1-10): 0. The only available food item was the gum stuck under the tables.

Best Food Item: Gum stuck under the tables.

Best Exploitation of September 11 Tragedy: N/A.

Overall Chances of:

(A) Getting Drunk

Good. Cash bar served beer and wine, and there was no pesky food to get in the way.

(B) Getting Laid

Not good. Prior to Cogswell's bash, Re-bar hosted a lesbian spoken-word performance cabaret, which effectively drained the room of all sexual potential.

(C) Getting Into a Fight

Not good. Vibe was very lovey-dovey, culminating in Cogswell's warm recounting of being given a ride to the voting polls by opponent Richard McIver!

Best Quote (Overheard): "Where's the bathroom?"--Unidentified man.

Best Quote (Manufactured for the Press): "It's very encouraging. The most conservative votes always come in first."--Grant Cogswell, reflecting on McIver's early lead in the polls.

Most Telling Sign of Things to Come: A tattooed punk-rock lefty getting so many goddamn votes.

Initiative 747Party Locale: 8th Street Sports Bar in Bellevue.

Theme: Half frat party, half sports bar, where Tim Eyman is the star.

Crowd: See above.

Quality of Spread (Scale of 1-10): 4. Basic sports-bar food.

Best Food Item: Spicy buffalo wings.

Best Exploitation of September 11 Tragedy: Sign carried by old lady: "United We Stand. Tim Eyman Is Our Man."

Overall Chances of:

(A) Getting Drunk

Good. Cash bar served up tons of cocktails.

(B) Getting Laid

Good, particularly when you consider the frat-boys-with-roofies element.

(C) Getting Into a Fight

Good, particularly with the drunk, rude shrews in the ladies' room.

Best Quote (Overheard): "I'm not drunk enough."--Unidentified man.

Best Quote (Manufactured for the Press): "Citizens can tax themselves into oblivion if they want to, but they have to ask our permission first!"--Tim Eyman. (Runner-up: "The press is not omnipotent!"--Tim Eyman.)

Most Telling Sign of Things to Come: Eyman's promise to draft another tax initiative in the next two weeks.

The Stranger Election Death Squad is: Corianton Hale, David Schmader, Josh Feit, Tim Keck, Min Liao, Sara DeBell, Amy Jenniges, Amy Baranski, Bradley Steinbacher.