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State Rep. Kenneth Green Prepared For Challenge In August Primary

Jenna Carlesso

June 10, 2010

State Rep. Kenneth Green said he was surprised when Democrats in Hartford and Bloomfield shifted their support to a young Hartford city councilman at the party's nominating convention last month.

But the eight-term Democrat representing the 1st House District has faced a similar challenge before, losing the convention endorsement in 2002 to then-State Rep. Barnaby Horton when redistricting put both legislators in Green's district.

This year, he lost the nod to another candidate with a well-known name in local political circles: Matthew Ritter, the son of former House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter. Matthew Ritter has served on the city council since 2007.

The rejection disappointed Green, chairman of the legislature's housing committee, but he said he's confident he'll prevail at the primary in August, just as he did in 2002.

"I believe I have the support of my constituents," he said. "I think they've seen the work I've done. They've supported me for 16 years."

Several Democrats, however, say it's time for a change and are looking to Ritter, 28, for "energetic" leadership.

"[Hartford] has been one of the poorest cities in the country. There's been some improvement, but not enough," said Frank Barrows, a former Democratic state senator who lives in Hartford. "If we have elected officials in office over a period of time and changes haven't come… after so many years, it's time for an elected official to get out and let somebody in who's aggressive."

Barrows, who supported Ritter at the nominating convention, said Ritter would bring "energy and enthusiasm" to a position in need of more interaction with constituents Ritter won the endorsement by a vote of 13-3.

"A lot of politicians get out of touch with the community," Barrows said. "If you want to be a leader, you have to get out there and show you are a leader. [Ritter's] youth helps with that."

Carlos Hernandez Chavez, a member of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee, said Green has lost touch with city residents.

"The only time we hear from Mr. Green is when there's an election," he said. "There's not substantive activity on the part of the incumbent at the legislature."

John Kennelly, another member of the Democratic town committee, said Ritter's background as a three-year member of the city council, a longtime Hartford resident and a lawyer would be an asset if he took over the seat. He said voters are looking for someone to support job growth and property-tax reform and ensure that the state provides proper social services.

"His experience with issues involving the elderly and children — those are the type of things I and the town committee saw in Matt," Kennelly said.

In April, Ritter launched what he called a "listening campaign," going door-to-door in many of the district's neighborhoods to speak with residents. He estimated recently that he had covered about 85 percent of the households.

"Change is a very common theme I hear," he said. "I think they want new ideas and a new approach. They want people to go up there and think critically."

But others staunchly defended Green, saying he's been an advocate for inner-city children and that he keeps the public informed about what's happening at the legislature.

"I like him because I can talk to him," said Quree Carter, a Bloomfield Democratic Town Committee member. "A lot of candidates, you can talk to them while they're running for office, but Ken Green is there before and after."

Carter said Ritter's lack of experience in politics and in the district's neighborhoods makes Green, also a Hartford resident, the stronger candidate.

"He [Ritter] needs to be more involved in the community to know what's going on. He needs more experience," she said.

Looking ahead to the August primary, Green said he expects a contentious race.

"It's going to be full court pressure. The atmosphere for a political primary is going to be heightened this time," he said. "There are more candidates in the primaries. There is a lot of energy and a lot of ideas out there."

But he says his 16 years representing Hartford and Bloomfield have taught him something.

"I don't think the endorsement matters all that much. You have to go out and be exposed to the constituents," he said. "It's going to be a matter for them to decide now."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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