Rep. who helped deregulate savings and loans dies

JENNIFER McDERMOTT
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A man who represented Rhode Island in Congress for 28 years and co-sponsored a 1982 bill that deregulated savings and loans has died. Fernand St Germain was 86.

The congressman died Saturday at his home in Newport, according to his daughter, Lisette Saint Germain. She said he suffered from kidney failure.

St Germain, a Democrat, rose to chair the House Banking Committee. The deregulation bill aimed to provide a long-term solution for troubled thrift institutions, but it contributed to the 1980s savings and loan crisis by allowing institutions to expand their lending activities away from home mortgages into more risky commercial ventures. The crisis left U.S. taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars.

St Germain used his clout to shower the district with federal projects. One of his legacies is the housing for the elderly and disabled that can be seen throughout the district. He was proud of the mortgage reforms he introduced, including one that ensured married women could get a mortgage without a husband’s signature, his daughter said.

Former congressman Barney Frank said St Germain was a “very effective legislator.” The two men worked together to prevent cutbacks to rental housing for low-income families and to protect constituents when credit unions were failing in the late 1980s.

“He was interested in getting things done and he was good at,” Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, said Monday.

St Germain was first elected in 1960, the same year as President John F. Kennedy, and the two men were close. Two days before he died St Germain asked to see a photo of himself with Kennedy that was taken around 1961. He called it “precious,” and wouldn’t let go of it, said Susan Cowsill, a family friend who was there.

St Germain lost his bid for re-election in 1988 to a political newcomer, Republican Ronald Machtley, while battling questions about unethical behavior.

That defeat was a tremendous blow because he was passionate about his work, Saint Germain said. Years later, she said, he still terribly missed public service.

St Germain worked as a consultant in Washington, D.C. before retiring 15 years ago. In recent years he traveled between Newport and his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, played golf and spent time with family and friends. His eldest daughter, Laurene Sorensen, lives in Idaho.

St Germain was born in Massachusetts. He went to parochial schools in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Providence. He is a graduate of Providence College and Boston University’s law school. He served in the Army during the Korean War and in the Rhode Island General Assembly. St Germain lived in Woonsocket while in office.

Rhode Island U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline said St Germain was a distinguished public servant and a strong voice for middle-class families.

“For nearly three decades he devoted his life to public service and faithfully served the people of Rhode Island in the United States Congress,” he said in a statement. “His legacy will continue to benefit our state for years to come. Like all Rhode Islanders, I deeply mourn his loss.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ordered state flags lowered to half-staff until St Germain’s burial. The funeral arrangements had not yet been set Monday.

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