Served On Hartford City Council, In General Assembly
By MARA LEE
July 18, 2010
When Hartford's North End erupted in riots in 1967, it was painful for Deputy Mayor George J. Ritter, who had been a spirited advocate for housing integration and anti-poverty action for more than 15 years.
"Why does a person damage the property of persons of his own race?" he asked. "Hartford divided into sections, into races, into competing sections, cannot stand."
The day after the first violence, Ritter went to the riot's epicenter, and took his 14-year-old son Tom with him.
"I remember going down Canton Street with him," Thomas D. Ritter said, and they were the only whites there. "He was accepted. It wasn't awkward for him to be there. He was there with the African-American community leaders," all searching to understand how frustrations had boiled over.
George J. Ritter, who was on Hartford City Council from 1959 to 1968, and who served in the General Assembly from 1968 to 1980, died Sunday at the age of 90.
Thomas Ritter, who won his father's seat in 1980 at age 27, later became speaker of the House. His son, Matt Ritter, is a Hartford City Council member, and is challenging Rep. Ken Green in the 1st District primary.
Thomas Ritter explained how his father inspired him to go into politics, saying: "I saw how grounded he was in the community. How you could use politics to make great strides for making things for the better."
George Ritter grew up in New Jersey, and was class president at Rutgers University. His Yale Law school education was interrupted by World War II, where he served in the Pacific and in occupied Japan.
He married his wife, Patricia, in 1946, and they were partners in fighting for social justice, their children said.
Together, they founded the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund in the early 60s, a nonprofit that advocated for integrated housing, minority home ownership and affordable housing.
Before entering politics, George Ritter was a labor organizer, starting some of the first public employee unions in Connecticut. He also fought racial prejudice at private Andover Lake, starting in 1954. In the legislature, he was one of the key players establishing state employees' union representation, his daughter Martha Ritter said. She also said her father relished being the first man appointed to the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
Patricia and George had four sons and a daughter — and three of the four sons went into public service. Penn was clerk of the House for years; John also served in the legislature.
John Berman, a Republican who once represented West Hartford's 19th District, called Ritter a fast friend. They were in the House together in the 1970s.
"George was a devout liberal with only the best for the state in his heart," Berman said. "He was an advanced, forward thinker."
He said Ritter was instrumental in getting the short-lived income tax passed in 1971.
Berman, who now lives in Hartford's West End, said it's not surprising Ritter created a political dynasty. "He was kind of a hands-on dad. I think when they looked at him, and saw all the joie de vivre George brought to life," they wanted to be like him. "He had fun in politics."
Thomas Ritter said the way his father made him a witness to local history was one of the great things about him. He accompanied his father as he mediated the 1969 teachers' strike, too.
Matt was absolutely influenced by his grandfather, Ritter said, and his pride in the city of Hartford. Some people say to Matt he should move to West Hartford and run for office there. "No, if I'm going to be involved, it's going to be in Hartford," Ritter said his son says. "Hartford's my community."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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