Will GOP seize opportunity in 20th Senate?

With Democratic state Sen. Andrea Stillman's decision not to seek re-election to a sixth term, Republicans have a great opportunity to take the 20th District seat. It is an opportunity that may not come along again for a long time.

Republican East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica recently made it official that he will run for the open seat. The state Republican Party should recognize the opportunity and provide some resources to the Formica campaign. Then again, Republicans in this state do not have a great record when it comes to seizing opportunities to capture state legislative seats.

It appears likely that Formica will face state Rep. Betsy Ritter, who is leaving her safe 38th Assembly District position, representing Waterford and a portion of Montville, to make a run at the Senate. After five terms in the House, Rep. Ritter also walks away from her influential deputy speaker position.

Before Ritter can turn her attention to the race with Formica, she faces a challenge for the Democratic nomination from Bill Satti, chairman of the New London Democratic Town Committee and progeny of a family with a long political history in the city. Satti got a jump on his opponent, winning his town committee's endorsement before Ritter even officially announced.

Though currently not holding office, Satti served two years on the New London Board of Education, eight years on the City Council and twice served as the city's ceremonial mayor before the charter change to an elected mayor.

Ritter, however, seems better positioned to win the May 19 convention. The district sprawls far outside New London, encompassing the towns of East Lyme, Montville, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, Waterford and Bozrah. It is questionable how much political pull Satti has outside of the city's environs. His position of 17 years overseeing community affairs and public relations for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation could prove a liability with convention delegates.

On the other hand, Ritter is backed by the popular Stillman and has strong support among Democrats in Hartford. She should be able to gain the delegate support necessary to secure the nomination.

Satti has said he will not primary if he fails to get the convention nomination. If he wants back in the electoral game, a run for mayor of New London in 2015 might be the better fit, now that the incumbent, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, has taken himself out of that race.

Ritter versus Formica could prove to be one heck of a contest. Expect Ritter to run strong in Waterford and New London, Formica to dominate in his hometown of East Lyme. The contest will be won in those other district towns and, from my perspective, it's advantage Formica.

Look for Formica to point to his experience as a businessman - he runs the Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant - and executive experience as first selectman. He can frame those attributes as a preferable alternative to someone trying to climb a rung higher in the General Assembly in Hartford.

The East Lyme first selectman can point to a record of getting things done. He tackled and resolved the seasonal water shortages that had long plagued his town. Formica is working with developers to revive the Gateway Commons residential and commercial development project that had stalled during the recession. Using federal funds and insurance damage payments, the town is preparing to rebuild the popular walkway along Niantic Bay.

Ritter's achievements are more difficult to document and could be a tougher sell to voters. She is likable, no question about that. She is good at constituent service. By all accounts she has shown the ability in the General Assembly to bring lawmakers together, find compromises and get legislation passed. However, those attributes may not resonate with voters across the large senatorial district.

During a recent interview, Ritter lamented that the state keeps pouring tax dollars into the Amistad, even though out-of-state interests control the replica slave ship and it spends little time here. She concurs that the state has done a lousy job maintaining the Seaside Regional Center property in her town of Waterford and in failing to move forward with a development plan. And it is a shame, Ritter said, that the state is not doing a better job of accounting for the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of how state dollars are allocated.

This begs the question. As a House member for 10 years in the controlling party, shouldn't Ritter have done a better job addressing these problems?

It is a question I am sure Formica will be asking if, as I expect, Ritter is his opponent.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.


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