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The 2015 race for mayor of Champaign is getting surprisingly crowded.

Even though Champaign's mayoral election is more than a year away, candidates continue to step forward.

Champaign Park Board President Joseph Petry is the latest to acknowledge that he intends to enter the race, bringing the number of likely candidates to four.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard has indicated that he plans to run for a second term. Council members Deb Feinen and Karen Foster also have said they also expect to be candidates for mayor.

It has been a while since so many candidates vied for the mayor's office, but the more the merrier. In our view, a broad field of candidates will generate more discussion of important municipal issues and, perhaps, more public interest. It might even persuade lethargic city residents to show up at the polling place on Election Day. Given the disgracefully low voter turnout in Champaign's 2011 election, that would be a pleasant turnabout.

The renewed interest in the mayor's post in Champaign comes as something of a surprise, given its largely ceremonial nature.

In Champaign's city manager form of government, the real power rests with the city administration and the council as a whole. The mayor is essentially a glorified council member, casting a vote like other council members but possessing no veto power — unlike his counterpart in Urbana.

That said, some Champaign mayors can become powerhouses, former Mayor Dan McCollum being one example. But that's more a matter of personality and persuasive ability than position.

The interest in the mayor's office also will mean change on the nine-member council (three at-large council members, five district council members and the mayor). The three at-large seats will be up for election next year, and Feinen and Foster will have to give up their at-large council seats to run for mayor.

That will create at least two open at-large seats, perhaps even three if longtime council member Tom Bruno chooses not to run for re-election. It's a golden opportunity for would-be candidates who don't wish to challenge an incumbent council member. And the same rule applies to council candidates as to the mayor's office — the more, the merrier.