WHEN MAYOR SCHELL released his proposed $606 million general fund budget on September 25--prioritizing transportation (a $9 million increase over the previous budget) and homeless services (a $3 million increase)--the stage was set for a HARROWING city hall ritual: Council members and their sidekicks work overtime, eyeing the mayor's numbers with ultra-atomic microscopes (attempting to find possible cuts) so they can make room for their own priorities in the form of "adds." This year's potential adds include everything from the CURIOUS to the practical, from the righteous to the FANTASTICAL. There's Richard McIver's request for, um, prostate cancer education; Richard Conlin's FIGHT to reserve open spaces in South Seattle; Peter Steinbrueck's SENSATIONAL!! push for $12 million in homeless assistance; Heidi Wills' OBSESSION with updating the transportation budget; and Nick Licata's GAMBIT to find legal aid for cash-strapped people getting ZAPPED by EVIL City Attorney Mark Sidran's car impound CRAZE.

Clearly, budget season is the time when council members' TRUE IDENTITIES emerge in the form of their add requests. Licata, for example, is obviously an anti-Sidran AVENGER, while INVISIBLE WOMAN Council President Margaret Pageler--satisfied with Schell's budget--didn't fight for much at all.

In addition to casting light on council members' political priorities, the budget SHOWDOWN! also works to reveal something else: Based on whether or not council members get the votes for their adds, we can judge the quality of their political POWERS.

One case is clear. Late last week, while most council members were still RACING to find votes for their adds, the council's MIGHTY class WARRIOR Judy Nicastro had already gotten hers: a 250 percent increase in rental assistance over two years. The $1 million plus, estimated to help 800 households next year, goes to a one-time bail-out fund dedicated to extremely low income tenants facing eviction notices from DASTARDLY landlords. The money also funds counseling programs.

Nicastro had asked the mayor to include the extra money in this year's budget months ago, but according to the councilwoman, "He clearly blew it off." Now that Nicastro has won the BATTLE, she boasts, "We got it. This is the big kahuna!"

Council member Conlin had the longest list of adds. Among them, the new age prince wanted to spend $900,000 making the Opera House's McCaw Hall more environmentally friendly and $60,000 for those groundbreaking community forums on race. To Conlin's credit, as we went to press, he was putting the pieces in place for some more worthy adds: reserving park space in Columbia City and replacing lost federal dollars to fund youth services.

Ultimately, we just couldn't capture the budget BATTLE in words, so, after watching your Seattle City Council members TRANSFORMED before our very eyes, we present this UNCANNY picture...

According to one council member, budget chair Drago--who set aside $22,000 for the all-important Sports & Events Council--said the budget process should be "confidential" and then told her colleagues to clam up. No luck. This reporter got a helping hand from nearly 20 city hall staffers.

Judy FIDEL Nicastro
Fighting For: $750,000 in renters' assistance.
Got: $750,000.
Conquering all foes to make Seattle safe for renters.

Peter DREAMER Steinbrueck
Fighting For: $12 million in homeless services.
Got: $2.5 million.
Steinbrueck came into the budget process swinging, looking for a titanic add in homeless services. It was a little too heavy for his colleagues.

Richard "OM..." Conlin
Fighting For: $985,000 to buy park land in South Seattle.
Got: $700,000.
Visualize parks.

Fighting For: $350,000 in legal aid money for the poor.
Got: $150,000.
Despite giving his colleagues the $250,000 he was bold enough to grab from the mayor's pet Seattle Chinese Garden fund, Licata had a difficult time getting his comrades to help him.

Fighting For: $6.5 million in transportation fixes.
Got: $1.5 million to build sidewalks in under-served neighborhoods like Rainier Valley. Wills got money by shaving fat from evil City Attorney Mark Sidran's office and also by taking that $250,000 originally slated for the Seattle Chinese Garden.

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