Former St. Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter III is the first candidate to throw his hat into the ring for the city's 2017 mayoral race, getting a jump of nearly two years on the election.

Carter, who leads the Minnesota Children's Cabinet, said that he is in an "exploratory phase" and that he is meeting with community members to hear their priorities.

But he said he's not sure what he might do if Mayor Chris Coleman, who he said "has been great for the city," decides to run again. "As folks speculate on whether Mayor Coleman will run … it's something I hear quite a bit from people encouraging me to think about it," Carter said.

If Coleman doesn't run for re-election, the race is likely to draw several other candidates.

Carter, 37, is a DFLer who represented the First Ward on the City Council from 2007 until 2013, when he stepped down before his term ended to lead the state's Office of Early Learning. That role shifted to his current post, to which he was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

"We're at a really exciting point where we have an opportunity to really build for the future of the city," Carter said, pointing to "incredible opportunities" in development, transit and racial equity.

Carter, who registered his campaign committee Dec. 24, said Monday he has raised more than $30,000. DFL political consultant Jeff Blodgett and former St. Paul Police Chief William Finney, who filled out an unexpired term on the City Council, will chair Carter's campaign committee, according to paperwork filed with the Ramsey County Elections Office.