The annual tango over the Seattle City Budget has followed the usual dance-steps manual, with the City Council making a few minor tweaks in Mayor Greg Nickels' budget, and declaring a sweeping victory. Most of this follows a time-honored script, where the Mayor puts in a few million dollars that can be easily redirected to a some favored council causes, mostly in human services and neighborhood pet projects. Final approval of the 2008 budget, swollen by real estate taxes, will be Nov. 19. With the economy turning down, this may be the last fat year for a while, and the various claimants did well. The ploy this year was an $8.9 million item to build a customized 311 phone service for calling City Hall. Now there's an urgent need! Predictably, the council nixed that item, spreading dollars around for pedestrian safety (council President Nick Licata's priority), $2 million to buy more books for the Library (Peter Steinbrueck's crusade), and money for dental clinics for the poor and to buy old school buildings for neighborhood centers in University Heights and Phinney Ridge. This year, the Mayor's proposal for Park Rangers to monitor illegal activity in downtown parks made it through the council; last year that money was stripped to add more police officers. By spreading the windfall money around the city, Mayor Nickels is off to a good start on his reelection campaign for 2009. You might think it early, but the real campaign will be this year, with the Mayor hoping to raise a strong war chest that would fend off notable opponents. The Mayor is already making phone calls and sending around envelopes for donations to his lightly disguised reelection campaign. By the time any serious candidates get organized in 2009, the election year, Nickels may have a prohibitive list of backers and dollars. Nickels will consolidate his environmental support by his global warming initiatives, retain his solid labor backing, and fend off challenges from the downtown business interests by his Center Cities strategy, including amenities like the new South Lake Union Streetcar. Only the neighborhoods are likely to be serious opposition, and a bit of that was bought off by this budget.