Maine’s tourism director leaves

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Maine Tourism Director Dann Lewis, the man who drew ire last year because of the ILOVENY vanity license plate on his family vehicle, is leaving his job as tourism chief.

It is unclear whether Lewis was fired. His boss, John Richardson, who began serving as commissioner of economic development this week, said he “wouldn’t characterize it that way.”

But he added, “The directors serve at the pleasure of the commissioner.”

Lewis’ last day is Tuesday. He is currently “exploring his options inside and outside of government,” Richardson said.

Lewis did not immediately return a call looking for comment Friday.

Lewis began serving as the director of the Maine Office of Tourism in 1996. Recently, some of his moves have proven controversial, including hiring a New York advertising agency to do contract work for the Maine tourism office. Last spring, when Maine blogger Lance Dutson criticized the work, the New York agency sued him for libel, defamation and copyright infringement.

The suit was later dropped, but Dutson became an outspoken critic of Lewis and the tourism office. Last fall, he discovered an ILOVENY license plate registered to the tourism director and his wife, Sherry. Dutson threw the information onto his Web site last fall, and Lewis made national headlines as a Maine tourism official touting his love for another state.

At the time, Lewis defended the license plate, saying it belonged to his wife, a native New Yorker, who got it some time after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Lewis will be replaced by Pat Eltman, a Democratic activist, lobbyist and public relations specialist. She starts Tuesday.

“She’s high energy and will give us a needed boost with the Legislature,” Richardson said.

Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Maine. In 2004 it accounted for more than 176,000 jobs and generated more than $530 million in state and local taxes, according to Richardson.

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