Forget about the races for governor and U.S. Senate this year. The 2015 campaign for mayor of Charleston has begun.

John Tecklenburg, a former aide to Mayor Joe Riley and who helped in his previous elections, formally entered the race Monday, foreshadowing a field of candidates that's expected to grow more cluttered and competitive as time goes on.

"Together, we strengthen Charleston," Tecklenburg said in his announcement. "It is up to all of us to create a new, shared vision going forward that involves all of our citizens."

Tecklenburg becomes the second hopeful to declare for the November 2015 ballot, joining City Councilman Dean Riegel.

Riegel, however, did not sound as committed to the race as he previously announced, saying Monday "there is a lot of time between now and next November" to get a campaign moving.

About a dozen local figures are mulling bids for what's expected to be one of the most closely followed mayoral races in the country.

"Whoever we elect as mayor will send an important message of who and what Charleston will become," said College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart, pointing to the pressures of leading a progressive Southern city consistently ranked one of the most popular tourism destinations in the country.

And, unlike stories of decaying American cities - such as Detroit - Stewart said Charleston's story represents successes that others keep tabs on.

So many people have visited Charlestonin recent decades "they feel they have a connection here," Stewart said.

Riley has not changed his plan to retire next year, his office said Monday.

Tecklenburg now works in commercial real estate and has been out of city government since 2000. Previously, he was Charleston's director of economic development. He also worked on several of Riley's past campaigns, including as manager for what was the unsuccessful pursuit of the 1994 Democratic nomination for governor versus Nick Theodore.

"I'll focus on improving both our physical infrastructure and advancing opportunities for our citizens in all parts of our city," said Tecklenburg, who lives in the Windermere area of West Ashley. He and his wife Sandy raised five children.

Tecklenburg said entering the race 18 months ahead of the vote shows how narrow the window is for raising money, collecting endorsements and speaking with voters. Early estimates suggest that it could cost as much as $1 million to wage a credible run.

As far as other interested candidates, a Post and Courier survey in December showed there were multiple potential figures considering bids or who said they've been encouraged to run.

Among them: City Councilman Aubry Alexander; former state Rep. Jimmy Bailey; Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon; restaurant developer Dick Elliott; state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston; City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie; businesswoman Linda Ketner; contractor Marc Knapp; state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston; City Councilman Mike Seekings; state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston; and former City Councilman Paul Tinkler.

Some of those contacted Monday said they felt it is still too early to formally declare. Stavrinakis, for example, said he is concentrating on winning re-election to his West Ashley seat in the S.C. House of Representatives.

"When the time comes for that race, I'll certainty consider it," he said.

Ketner, likewise, wasn't ready to announce anything. "Still nothing to report from me," she said in an email.

"It's still percolating," Bailey added.

Seekings was running the Boston Marathon and could not be reached.

Others were a tad more definitive.

"I've never stopped running for mayor," said Gregorie, who tried unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 and in 2011, though he said he's not yet reached the stage of issuing a formal declaration for 2015.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.