Take the over if you are betting fireworks will erupt at the first of three candidates forums in San Leandro. With two months until voters cast their votes, this fall’s election is highlighted by more wildcards than usual. San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos’ campaign for four more years at City Hall is vastly different than his defeat in 2006 of Orval Badger. This time around much uncertainty (real or not) surrounds the debut of Ranked Choice Voting. Not only are voters in for a surprise as word grows of the voting method whereby candidates are chosen through the ranking of their top three choices for mayor and city council, but many local strategists lack experience with the system. Mayoral candidates Stephen Cassidy and Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak have had their desire to run for mayor for over a year leading to a long-than-normal simmering Cold War of snipping and criticism of each other, which may begin to spill out starting tonight. Here’s a brief thumbnail of each candidate for mayor featured tonight:

Long-time San Leandro pol Tony Santos is quite bit more savvy politically than he is given credit for, but many in his inner circle, wince at his unpredictability and penchant for waxing about arcane stories about how business was done at city hall nearly three decades ago. Anyone, who has spent anytime around Santos also knows his frightful war stories by heart. Santos can get off the subject easily, but he also has a sharp tongue (he’s Portuguese, afterall). Keep an eye on whether he attacks Cassidy, who has been the subject of much of his ire over the past year specifically calling Cassidy a “Filipovich Republican” and a member of the Tea Party for his plans to cut city employee pensions and city programs. Look for Santos to tout the city’s business accomplishments, notably the construction of Kaiser Permanente on Merced and his proposal unveiled last night to retain and rebrand the city for businesses.

Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak has been notably quiet since announcing her run in Aug. 2009. She has the flashy campaign consultant but little has come of presenting herself to a community of which few know outside of her Washington Manor neighborhood. Many have been critical of her decision to run against a sitting mayor who shares many of the same policies and supporters. In recent months she has attempted to distance herself from Santos by branding herself a crusader for balancing the city’s budget, but none of her stances has swayed the rest of the council which continues to struggle with falling revenues and rising expenses. It will be interesting to see if opponents of Starosciak from Heron Bay attempt to question her about her role in their disputed homeowners election last March.

Talk of Stephen Cassidy running for mayor has swirled for almost two years. Through his extensive writings on his web site and numerous letters to the editor, he is likely the candidate with his positions most clearly fleshed out, but are they ones that resonate with the public? Cassidy’s position is simple. He’s the government reform candidate running on fixing the city’s dwindling reserves. The city will be in bankruptcy if change does not come to city hall, according to Cassidy. The key question for Cassidy is whether he can communicate to voters just how he will do that past merely having city employees pay for more of their pensions. The other key to tonight’s debate is purely cosmetic. Cassidy’s time on the San Leandro School Board was somewhat controversial and contentious. He has a reputation as prickly and condescending, according to many who served with him. Conversely, he has earned a great deal of support from voters in the school district although he, at times, sounds more like he is running for mayor of the school board than mayor of the city. He could be susceptible if another candidate pushes him. According to Santos, Cassidy campaign manager screamed at the mayor for his comments regarding the Tea Party.

Without much money at all, Sara Mestas pulled off the biggest coup thus far by parlaying her hardscrabble local background and burgeoning hip-hop career into a ton of local newspaper and television coverage. One candidate admitted, everybody knows Sara the Rapper Running for Mayor. Because of her background, various prejudices against her developed, but she has surprised many with her intelligence and ideas which put her in the position of being the candidate who instinctively talks about helping the less fortunate in the city. No area showed that commitment more than her signature issue of retaining the crossing guard program for the city’s children. It’s an issue that keeps on giving as the city and school district fumbled over the issue for a second consecutive year. She will likely say nothing negative about Santos. Some think she is angling for a prime position in the city should he win, but her candidacy may constitute what RCV experts call a “rabbit” candidate, meaning someone who can help another candidate rise in the polls by the accumulation of second place votes. Her rhyming skills are pretty good, too–not Jesse Jackson-like–but good.