David Bennett's campaign to "Do Better" on Hilton Head Island scored a stunning upset Tuesday as he soundly defeated incumbent Drew Laughlin in the runoff for mayor.
Bennett buried Laughlin by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
The Planning Commission chairman collected 5,839 votes, or 65 percent.
Laughlin received 3,144 votes, or 35 percent.
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Bennett, 48, ran as an outsider promising to control development and install infrastructure for north-end residents. The Palmetto Dunes resident becomes the ninth mayor in the town's 31-year history.
"I think the people were ready for a change," Bennett said Tuesday night. "They demanded it. Now it's time to get started."
Laughlin, 62, was seeking a second term. The Spanish Wells resident has served on Town Council since 2003 and as mayor since 2010. He said it was too early to say if his political career was over.
"I congratulate them on their victory; they ran a great campaign," he said. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished over the past four years and during my time on council."
About 30 percent of the town's registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, according to unofficial results from the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Registration.
RUNUP TO THE RUNOFF
The two candidates streamrolled the field in the Nov. 4 general election.
Laughlin collected 42 percent of those votes.
Bennett took 41 percent.
Not one of the other three candidates -- Joe DuBois, Cork James and Rochelle Williams -- topped 10 percent.
Going into that election, Laughlin, an attorney, was considered the favorite. He received endorsements from the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors, State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and former Mayor Tom Peeples, the only Hilton Head mayor to be elected to more than one term.
The incumbent campaigned on what he considered to be his successes.
He cited his role in keeping the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament on the island and touted the more than $290 million the private sector has invested in the town during his tenure.
But the mayor's accomplishments weren't enough to overcome a strong sentiment for change among residents.
Laughlin's challengers called him a member of the status quo. They also criticized him for representing the timeshare company Coral Resorts, which faces more than 50 lawsuits from disgruntled timeshare owners.
Bennett, an affordable-housing developer from Indiana, moved to the island five years ago. He was a little known planning commission member when he filed for the mayor's race this summer.
His campaign capitalized on recent discontent with town projects.
Bennett labeled Laughlin a "caretaker mayor" who let developers take the reins.
He railed against projects such as the proposed University of South Carolina Beaufort campus and Shelter Cove Towne Centre, which many residents say does not fit the island's aesthetic.
As mayor, Bennett says he will direct the town to buy land and control development. He also promises to spend more money to pave roads and install sewer and water systems, with an emphasis on the north end of the island.
Council will appoint a new planning commission member to replace Bennett. The commission will elect a new chairman, according to town attorney Brian Hulbert.
Bennett isn't the only new addition to council.
Tom Lennox, a Sea Pines resident, will replace Ward 5 Councilman George Williams, who is retiring after 13 years on the panel.
Bennett and Lennox will be sworn in Dec. 2.
With Williams and Laughlin departing, council loses its two longest-serving members.
"I have full trust in who is taking over," Laughlin said after conceding the election Tuesday night. "We have good people on the board. I'm not worried about that."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.