Hartford political figure loved city, sports, family and life
Hartford Courant Opinion
July 20, 2010
In his later years, George J. Ritter was one of the craftiest tennis players who ever stepped between the lines. First, he'd ask his opponent to go easy on him, what with this or that ailment. Then he would reach into a bottomless bag of tricks that included wicked spins, deft angles and agonizing drop shots, and beat the other guy, who may have been half his age.
As in tennis, so in politics, business and life. Mr. Ritter, who died Sunday at age 90, loved to compete and win, especially if he could do a little good and have fun along the way. He was a major player in Hartford politics in the middle of the last century, serving on the city council from 1959 to 1968 and in the General Assembly, from Hartford's 1st District, from 1968 to 1980. He also served as deputy mayor and corporation counsel.
A classic urban liberal, Mr. Ritter worked for senior citizens, job training and housing rehabilitation. He and his wife Patricia founded the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund in the 1960s, a nonprofit that advocated for integrated housing and minority homeownership, and now for affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization as well.
Many of his ideas from 50 years ago have a remarkably contemporary ring. Instead of getting tough on young drug offenders, he proposed a "no conviction" policy for youths between 16 and 18 who were arrested for a first drug offense, so they could get help before getting a criminal record. He proposed an office to promote the arts in Hartford. He pushed to have members of the Metropolitan District Commission elected, because he understood that accountability was an issue in the governance of the regional water and sewer authority. It still is.
Mr. Ritter was a wonderful story teller — he could do hours on his battles with the late party boss John Bailey — and a successful businessman. He was also a fine husband and father, who engaged his children in the world around them. His sons Thomas and John served in the General Assembly, son Penn worked at the legislature, and grandson Matt Ritter, a member of the Hartford city council, is in a primary for the 1st District General Assembly seat. To be remembered by the good work of one's children and grandchildren is a great tribute, better than a second-service ace.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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