13 Undercover

Allegations of voter intimidation in Kemah

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A nasty election season is underway, and a 13 Undercover investigation has become one of the big issues.

The bad news keeps coming for Kemah's mayor. Sunday night, word that some of his properties had fire code violations. Now, Galveston County confirms he's delinquent on taxes on dozens of properties, even some in his town -- more fuel for the political fight underway in Houston's playground along the bay.

Kemah's Mayor Matt Wiggins says he has a theory about elections.

"I divide up politics this way -- a third of the people are Republicans, and a third of the people are Democrats, and a third of them don't care," he said.

And about the people in Kemah...

"You got about a 50-50 chance of somebody hating you or loving you," Wiggins said.

There's no doubt the mayor has his supporters. And then there are those who claim he's used his power to take advantage of hurricane victims to secure more real estate, expand his financial empire in this tourist town, sidestep safety rules, ignoring the codes other businesses have to follow.

Wiggins denies it all.

"You're talking to the wrong people," he said.

A state fire marshal's inspection shows several of Wiggins' properties don't meet fire code, but last month, the mayor said the problem in Kemah isn't safety, it's paperwork.

"Paperwork is somewhere between nonexistent and atrocious. Nobody's been killed by a building in this town yet so we are going to keep it like that," Wiggins said.

"If there is an accident, there will be no place for any part of the city of Kemah to hide from the shame that occurred," mayoral candidate Bob Cummins said.

That gives you a backdrop to the tense mayoral election coming up in Kemah. Just taking pictures of political signs last week brought out the cops.

"I've never held public office, never had any intention to run for public office," Cummins said.

Cummins lives along Kemah's waterfront, but unlike the current mayor, has no business interests in the tourist town.

"I'm going in for public safety and for the residents, and that's the only thing. The job pays nothing. There's no upside for me in this game at all. Then you've got someone else who has a vast empire and a major monetary interest," Cummins said.

As you can imagine, just blocks from the popular Boardwalk, the political signs are out in force, along with allegations of voter intimidation.

Small-town politics can get nasty. Cummins says a lot of people are simply afraid to go against the mayor, at least publicly.

"I'm not a longtime resident so I don't know of all the shenanigans that might have happened in the past, but these people are truly intimidated," Cummins said.

Early voting starts on May 2 in Kemah. It's just one of the May elections will be watching here at Eyewitness News.

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kemah, 13 undercover, wayne dolcefino
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