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For the past 22 years, a Waterford Democrat has occupied the 20th District seat in the state Senate, an 11-term stretch that state Rep. Betsy Ritter hopes to extend this November.
But if she's to succeed Andrea Stillman, who's wrapping up her fifth term after succeeding Melodie Peters, who served six terms, Ritter will first have to fend off Democratic challenger Bill Satti, who says he's better known than Ritter in the 20th, a spacious eight-town district compromising Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford.
The district's Democrats will choose between Ritter, the party-endorsed candidate, and Satti in an Aug. 12 primary. The winner will face Republican Paul Formica, the East Lyme first selectman, in November.
Ritter and Satti will meet in a debate Tuesday night in Waterford.
Among political handicappers, it's an open question whether the 55-year-old Satti, New London's Democratic town chairman, can win enough support outside his hometown to upset Ritter, 63, the deputy speaker of the House, who's served five terms representing her hometown and part of Montville in the 38th House District.
"Someone said to me, 'No one from New London can win (the 20th),'" Satti said in an interview last week. "I said, 'I'm not a no one; I'm a someone.' "
Indeed, the Satti name has resounded for the better part of a century in New London and beyond, though Satti himself last held elective office in 1997. First elected to New London's city council in 1989, he served four two-year terms, including two non-consecutive years as mayor, a ceremonial post at the time.
Satti said he's spent the past 17 years watching his three children grow up. During the period, he's also worked for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as director of public affairs.
Satti said that despite Ritter's years of service in Hartford, he has more name recognition than she does. He said he's been going door-to-door throughout the 20th District, stressing his belief in the role small businesses can play in creating jobs, the need to enhance state funding for education and calling for scrutiny of such state budget "earmarks" as the funding set aside for the Amistad America organization.
"If I was up there last year, I would have shut off the spigot earlier," Satti said of the Amistad funding, the subject of a much-anticipated audit.
Like Satti, Ritter has been campaigning personally throughout the 20th District, traveling by bicycle where "flattish" terrain allows.
"I've knocked on more than 2,000 doors and made phone calls," she said. "Voter contact has always been a big thing with me. People want to know you're a communicator who will work hard for them."
Ritter said employment is voters' chief concern and that she hears a lot about health care as well, areas in which she made inroads as House chairman of the legislature's Public Health Committee from 2009 to 2013. She said she's saved jobs by championing changes in state licensing for certain health care professionals, and helped former Pfizer employees who wanted to stay in Connecticut find ways to apply their skills in new pursuits.
Ritter said her work to preserve affordable home health care for the elderly and access to health care in general are among her greatest legislative achievements. If elected, she said, she would address the need for mental and behavioral health services for young people.
"Increasingly, those needs are not being met," she said.
In regard to Amistad America, Ritter said the organization's failure to pay vendors is "of enormous concern to me." And, in an issue involving her hometown, she said has serious reservations about a developer's plan to build an inn on the state-owned Seaside property.
"Now, we're talking about a commercial development that's so far from where it started," she said. "I'm not ready to support something like that, and I don't think the town is either."
Satti said he could juggle his employment with the Mashantuckets with service in the state legislature.
"I would look at myself as a senator who works for the Mashantuckets," he said. "On a day I was in Hartford, I wouldn't work for the tribe - maybe I'd take vacation time."
He said he has never been a lobbyist and would recuse himself from legislative matters that could cause him to have a conflict, given his job.
A document on file with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics lists the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe/Foxwoods Resort Casino as a "client lobbyist" and Satti as "the person … responsible for oversight of client's lobbying activities" - essentially the tribe's contact person.
Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said the state's ethics law would not prevent Satti from serving in the legislature so long as he abstained from matters in which he has a personal stake.
"If it was a matter involving the tribe that wasn't going to affect his own financial interest, he would be able to participate," she said.
Ritter said she was not concerned that Satti's job might create a conflict.
"That's for the public to decide," she said.
IF YOU GO
What: Democratic primary debate, 20th state Senate District
Who: State Rep. Betsy Ritter of Waterford vs. Bill Satti of New London
When: 7:15 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Waterford Public Library, 49 Rope Ferry Road