Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier

Jake Bigham (left), a close friend of Bill Collins congratulates Collins Tuesday night on winning the election for Summerville mayor.

SUMMERVILLE -- Retired publisher Bill Collins has been elected the town's first new mayor in 45 years, winning more than half the vote in a three-way race, in unofficial returns.

Bob Jackson was re-elected to the Town Council District 6 seat in the only contested council race.

Collins will replace Berlin Myers, the longtime mayor who became such an icon in Summerville that a sculpture of his likeness now stands in the courtyard at Town Hall.

Collins takes over a bustling suburban community facing growth issues. Not so long ago it was a small, historic town, and its residents still cherish that historic ambiance.

"I'm a very, very happy person," he said. "(The residents) wanted somebody going forward who could work with all groups of people to face the challenges we face. Summerville is a special place, and I will work with every ounce of my being to make sure it remains a special place."

Collins received nearly 52 percent of the vote to real estate agent Dickie Miler's 35 percent and physician Bill Lomax's 14 percent.

Collins ran on platform with three chief priorities -- to ease traffic congestion; grow revenue by attracting new businesses and nourishing growing businesses with tax credits; and attract tourism, including bringing a boutique hotel downtown and working with cruise companies to bring passengers to historic sites around town.

A steady stream of voters throughout the day drove a turnout that appeared by mid-afternoon to be on track to be a record. But a big push in ballots by coming-home-from-work voters never came.

About 19 percent of the town's registered voters turned out, according to the unofficial returns, which is about what is usually expected in contested mayor races.

"This is a milestone for this town," Donnie Bingham said after voting in Town Council District 4. He was surprised not to see billboards and more campaign posters before the election. "You figure, this town in this place is in a time to make a change, ready to make a change."

In District 4 -- a battleground among the mayoral candidates -- more than 20 percent of registered voters had filled ballots by 4 p.m. A turnout of about 20 percent is considered good for a contested mayoral election.

The district includes the upscale Pine Forest development as well as neighborhoods that have been involved in annexation controversies.

At the Cuthbert Center in the historic heart of the old town, where two council districts vote, 1,300 (26 percent) had cast ballots by 5 p.m.

"The turnout has been phenomenal for a race in this small town," said Doris Asbell, town elections commission chairwoman.

But in District 6, the only contested council race, slightly fewer than 10 percent of registered voters cast ballots by the end of the day, and few came in during evening rush hour. The seat represents the booming Oakbrook community at the edge of town.

"They need to realize how important it is, and how (the tax money spent) comes out of their pocket," Jackson, who garnered 77 percent of the vote, said as he greeted voters at the poll Tuesday evening.

Summerville, with a long-lived reputation for low voter turnouts, is known as a place where a few ballots can turn the outcome in a race.

The town now has about 21,600 registered voters.