July 21, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
There were few anxious moments at the Democrat Town Committee's coronation of King Eddie Perez.
But there was one familiar face who was fidgeting inside the Bulkeley High School auditorium.
Thomas Ritter, the former three-term House speaker, is the proud papa of 25-year-old Matthew Ritter. Young Ritter was the new face selected to serve on Perez's city council slate. If elected, he'll become one of the youngest councilmen in the city's history.
Ritter's ascension marks the potential of a new era in Hartford politics - one in which young professionals who live in the city would be given a voice. It would also herald the return of a Ritter to elective office. For 30 years, until 1999, George Ritter, followed by his son Tom, held one of the city's state representative seats. Matt Ritter's mother, Kristine Keller, is a Superior Court judge. His uncle, John Ritter, was a former West Hartford state representative.
The Ritter name is a benefit and a burden for an aspiring public servant. Until he proves himself, young Ritter will always face suspicions that pops is pulling the strings behind the scenes and using family connections to give his son a competitive edge.
Over lunch Friday, Matt Ritter said he was never forced into politics and is proud of his family's advocacy for the disenfranchised. He's bright, engaging and has an emerging base that reflects this multi-ethnic city. With Ritter's passion, pedigree and his family's influence, few will be better positioned for a run at mayor in the next decade.
Ritter, who graduated in May from the University of Connecticut Law School, said he's focused only on passing the bar exam next week - he's got a job lined up at Shipman & Goodwin - and getting elected.
"Everybody talks about the importance of young professionals," Ritter said. "And for me that's a population I think needs to be heard and have a seat at the table. ... I have the utmost confidence that if you're involved and you're true to yourself, people will be able to [see] that and know what you're about and what you stand for."
Universal pre-school, downtown development and quality-of-life issues are on his agenda.
The Hartford native attended Annie Fisher elementary school, then a West Hartford prep school. He has a degree in government from Colby College in Maine and has worked in the Hartford's corporation counsel office. Ritter, a bachelor, is also a volunteer youth mentor and assists the Ritter family's education foundation in raising money. He remains best friends with soccer teammates from a youth Hartford travel team.
Ritter's supporters include Darrell Garner, 72, a black retired founder of the West End Community Center; Kelvin Roldan, 28, a Latino recently elected as a Hartford state representative; and John Kennelly, 38, a white lawyer and former councilman who knows about politically connected families.
"He volunteered a lot of his time and he mentored a lot of people," said Garner about Ritter. "The kids just loved him. And within that first year he brought in about 15 other college students who also volunteered to help us."
Roldan said Ritter will bring "energy and optimism" to city hall and will set an example for other young professionals interested in public service.
"I have my own goals and my own reasons for doing this," Ritter said. "I think this is a critical time for Hartford. This city is real important to me. This is where I'm from. This is where I want to live."
A Ritter is once again in the political mix. And one to watch.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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