Businesswoman Brenda Bethune won Myrtle Beach's mayoral runoff on Tuesday night, unseating three-term incumbent John Rhodes.
Bethune drew 67 percent of the vote to Rhodes' 33 percent as all 13 precincts reported in unofficial results.
Bethune, who is the majority owner of the local Anheuser-Busch distributor and other businesses, will be the first female mayor of the seaside resort town, which also has a female police chief and head judge. She will serve on a city council with two other women — the first time in the Myrtle Beach's history that three women will sit on the panel at the same time.
"I've accomplished a lot of things as a female in business, but to me, this is the coup de grace," Bethune said. "I hope I can be an example to little girls, to women, who may not always take the chance and put themselves out there."
Bethune won by a two-to-one margin, winning her biggest share in The Market Common, a fast-growing retirement community on the south end of the city that includes recent arrivals to Myrtle Beach. Voters there said on Tuesday that the current city leadership seemed ineffective and they perceived a steady rise in crime in the city.
Rhodes spent most of the day greeting voters at the biggest precinct in that area. On Nov. 7, Ed Carey won the most votes there with Bethune in second and Rhodes in third. Carey, a construction consultant, later endorsed Bethune.
"You've got so many people that move out here that don't understand the politics of Myrtle Beach," Rhodes said.
In the final days of the race, candidates turned to discussion of single-member districts, a hot issue in the rapidly redeveloping Market Common. None of the six at-large members of City Council live in the area, and most are concentrated on the northern end of town, with only one member living south of Mr. Joe White Avenue.
Bethune netted the endorsement from Carey after signaling she was open to the districts, but Rhodes came out in full-throated support of the change in a televised debate two weeks ago.
But it proved too little, too late.
As the results arrived in the evening, Rhodes watched seated next to his wife, Terri Springs, in the same chamber where he has presided over City Council meetings for 12 years.
"I haven't had a butt-whipping like this since my grandmother had a switch," Rhodes said as the vote came in Tuesday night.
In a contest between five candidates on Nov. 7, Bethune came in first with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Rhodes, who drew 30 percent. A candidate must win a majority to avoid a runoff.
Her success on Tuesday continued an anti-incumbent trend that saw longtime City Councilman Randal Wallace ousted from the panel during the election two weeks ago.
As Wallace greeted voters in support of Rhodes at a precinct, he said this election dredged up memories of another, before he landed on City Council: the 1997 race where three-term incumbent Bob Grissom faced off against Councilman Mark McBride.
Grissom won a plurality in the first race, but fell by a close margin to McBride in the runoff. Less than a year later, Grissom died.