Lee Edwards wins Hilton Head's Ward 3 special election

Lee Edwards
Lee Edwards

Lee Edwards, president and CEO of a Hilton Head-based landscaping company, confounded expectations by gathering enough votes in a five-way race to avoid a runoff and score a victory for a younger generation of island residents.

Edwards, 43, walked away with 56 percent of the vote Tuesday in the Ward 3 Hilton Head Island Town Council race with all but two precincts reporting, according to unofficial results.

Less than 10 provisional and failsafe ballots have yet to be counted, said Beaufort County elections director Scott Marshall, not enough to effect the results.

The Beaufort County Board of Canvassers will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday in Beaufort to consider the provisional ballots and certify the election results.

Edwards takes over the seat vacated by Drew Laughlin, the island's new mayor. Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort and Shipyard Plantation. The term expires in December 2012.

Marketing consultant David Warren, 55, came in second with about 23 percent of the vote. Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer, 68, received 12 percent.

Retired money manager Peter Zych, 71 -- who twice before sought the seat and lost in close elections -- received about 8 percent of votes.

Political novice and Hilton Head Guest Services employee Ryan McAvoy received less than 1 percent.

Baer, who won an unopposed bid for a second, four-year term on Beaufort County Council in November, will keep that seat.

Edwards needed more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday to take with the seat, a feat island political observers, county elections officials and even Edwards himself thought unlikely, since no clear front-runner was apparent leading up to the election.

"I felt all along it would come down to a runoff and I'd be in it," he said Tuesday night. "To be honest, I'm very flattered, humbled and shocked. I think the other candidates ran great, positive campaigns and I really admire them."

Edwards, who grew up on the island, ran on a platform of "innovation and preservation" -- calling for fresh ideas to attract new business opportunities to the island while maintaining its commitment to protecting the environment.

Last year, he organized HHI 25, an advocacy group for islanders between the ages of 21 and 45. In April, the group provided a position paper to a mayoral task charged with making recommendations on how to strengthen the island's tourism-based economy.

Edwards said he hopes Tuesday's results encourages more young professionals to become involved in town government and planning the island's future.

"I saw a need for some involvement of the younger generation in the mayor's task force, and a group of us went into action instead of waiting around for things to happen," he said. "I think a lot of people appreciated that and (that's) why some folks decided to vote for me."

Edwards said among his top priorities will be finding a sponsor for the island's annual PGA Tour Heritage golf tournament. He said he supports discussions occurring at the local, county and state levels to pay for the Heritage in the short-term, while continuing the search for a national sponsor.

He also plans to support efforts to reform town practices and regulations to encourage redevelopment of aging island properties.

"How we go about doing this is critical to our future ability to attract private investment and generate new sources of town revenue. We need to get it right," Edwards said. "Which is why I support creating a master plan" for the island to coincide with revisions to the town's land management ordinance.

Tuesday's turnout was better than expected.

About 25 percent of the roughly 5,300 registered voters in the ward participated.

In a 2009 special election to replace Bill Mottle, more than the 20 percent of voters cast ballots. Mottle resigned his Ward 2 seat for health reasons.

Warren and Zych could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. Earlier in the day Warren thanked supporters and said he was surprised by the level of interest in the election.

"It's been remarkably enjoyable. I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of assistance from friends, family and neighbors," he said. "All the candidates ran positive, up-front campaigns that has been great for the system and (I) applaud them all for running."

Baer said he wanted to look at official results before making a comment.

McAvoy said he intends to run for the seat again in 20 months and is not discouraged by the results.

Edwards will take office at the first regularly scheduled Town Council meeting after results are certified. That meeting is scheduled for March 1.