Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to lead the Maine State Housing Authority.

The Senate voted 20-13 to confirm George Gervais, who is currently serving as LePage’s commissioner of economic and community development, but the result was two votes shy of the two-thirds needed for confirmation.

Democrats Bill Diamond of Windham, James Dill of Old Town and Mark Dion of Portland joined 17 Republicans in supporting Gervais, but the remaining 12 Democrats present all cast “no” votes, as did Sen. Ron Collins, a Republican from York County. There were two Democrats who were not present.

Asked about the vote Thursday, LePage called it “horrible” and an example of “cheap politics” motivated by Democrats’ dislike for him.

“I think it’s revenge against me,” he said. “I think Democrats have such hatred for me that they’ll say ‘no’ to anything. And that’s fine. It is what it is. They only have nine months to go and then we’ll change and somebody else will come in.”

Gervais’ nomination to succeed John Gallagher as executive director of the quasi-state agency was the subject of much debate at his committee-level confirmation hearing this month.

All 14 people who spoke at the public hearing for Gervais’ nomination were in support, although one man, developer Nathan Szanton, said he had never met Gervais and acknowledged that he had a housing project pending with the agency.

However, Democrats on the Labor, Research and Economic Development Committee remained united in their opposition, saying Gervais lacked experience in housing administration. He also drew criticism for his involvement with Carteret Mortgage, a subprime lender, during the housing crisis about a decade ago.

The committee voted out a split recommendation on March 1 – with seven Democrats opposing and six Republicans supporting his nomination.

“The Maine State Housing Authority requires a director with vision, expertise and independent leadership who clearly demonstrates the passion and commitment to affordable housing, which is the primary mission of this agency,” Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, the lead Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “Regrettably, Commissioner Gervais does not possess the experience, qualifications and expertise necessary to lead this organization and serve in this lifetime appointment.”

Gervais, in a statement Thursday, did not address the failed vote or join his boss in criticizing Democrats.

“I have been truly honored by the confidence and trust Gov. LePage has placed in me with this nomination,” he said. “I am deeply grateful for the tremendous amount of positive support I’ve received throughout the nomination process from the many who have spoken out in favor of my accomplishments and qualifications.”

Maine State Housing Authority, better known simply as MaineHousing, manages state and federal subsidized housing programs and also the federal heating assistance program known as LIHEAP. It has about $1.6 billion in assets. The governor nominates its director – a lifetime appointment – but otherwise has no oversight role over the agency.

Gervais has spent the last decade at the Department of Economic and Community Development in a variety of roles and has been the department’s commissioner since 2011. He made $146,534 last year.

Gallagher was unanimously confirmed by the Senate five years ago after spending many years leading the housing authority for the city of Westbrook.

Peter Merrill, a longtime MaineHousing employee, has been serving as interim director since Gallagher stepped down.

The salary for the director’s post is not available on the state’s open records database.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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