Former assemblyman Ira Ruskin dies from brain tumor


Longtime former state Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, who represented Palo Alto for six years, died on July 3, according to his family. He was 70 years old.

The Democrat from Redwood City told his supporters in a May 2011 email that he had undergone emergency surgery for a malignant brain tumor earlier that month and that he was preparing to undergo "aggressive treatment," including radiation and chemotherapy, the Weekly reported at the time.

He said at the time that his doctors told him the tumor, while not curable, was containable. The illness halted his bid for a state Senate seat.

Ruskin was a member of the Committee for Green Foothills. He served nine years as a city councilman in Redwood City starting in 1995 and was mayor from 1999 through 2001. He was elected to the State Assembly in 2004, when he defeated Republican Steve Poizner to succeed former Palo Alto Mayor Joe Simitian. The 21st District straddles Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and includes Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, Stanford, Redwood City, San Carlos and a small part of San Jose.

Ruskin was re-elected twice before being termed out in 2010. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat Rich Gordon.

As a Redwood City councilman, he worked with Palo Alto officials to advocate for the creation of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, an organization of cities that use Hetch Hetchy water, which was controlled by San Francisco. Ruskin was its founding chairman. It took three bills to get it passed in the Legislature, according to the Weekly's past coverage.

Ruskin championed an environmental bill to safeguard the state through toxic-substances reporting. He introduced a bill that funded the successful Parolee Reentry Program in East Palo Alto, which helped more than 100 persons change their lives and exit the revolving door of crime, according to his Assembly record.

In 2009, he attempted to get a bill passed that would have give new authority to the California Coastal Commission to impose penalties for violations of the Coastal Act.

He served on the Budget, Business and Professions, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials and Higher Education committees of the California General Assembly, among others. His work on the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials committee included legislation to improve water and air quality, including greenhouse-gas-emission reduction and alternative-fuels vehicles, according to his Assembly biography.

Ruskin had planned to run for Simitian's seat in the state Senate in 2012.

"Given the treatment ahead, I am withdrawing from all political activity at this time in order to focus on my recovery and to be with my wife, Cheryl, friends, and family. I will be looking inside myself to understand how I want to spend my time and how I otherwise want to contribute to the community," he said in a statement after announcing his illness.

Gordon praised Ruskin's service in the Assembly after the 2011 announcement of his illness. He said he has been "impressed by the deep respect that so many in Sacramento have for Ira."

Ruskin "obviously did an outstanding job in the State Assembly," he said.

Ruskin is survived by his wife, Cheryl Perman. He received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968 and an master's in communications from Stanford University in 1983, according to his Assembly biography.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, July 9, at 10 a.m. at Temple Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda de las Pulgas, Redwood City. Graveside services will follow at Alta Mesas Cemetery, 695 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto. Updates and announcements can be found at

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Like this comment
Posted by Henrietta J. Burroughs
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 5, 2014 at 9:21 pm

This is very sad news. This area has lost a very conscientious and thoughtful public servant.

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Ira Ruskin - A decent man.

Like this comment
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 6, 2014 at 12:17 am

I agree, a good man and an intelligent and dedicated public service. Condolences to his family. Very sad news for the community.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for your service Ira. A great public servant and a huge loss to protecting our community. RIP.

Like this comment
Posted by Myrtle Walker
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:32 am

Long time public servant. Served California to the fullest. I knew him well. RIP. He will be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Rebecca Nelson
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:44 am

A dedicated and authentic public servant. May he rest in peace and condolences to all family.

Like this comment
Posted by Jane Ratchye
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:07 am

Ira Ruskin was missed the minute he left the State legislature. His reasoned approaches and willingness to listen to everyone were a hallmark of his time in office. His leadersip galvanized the interest of other public officials and led to the formation of the very well respected retional water agency, the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, a legacy his family should be very proud of.

Like this comment
Posted by JIm Phillips
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:13 am

Condolences to his family. Ira was a very effective public servant. I agree with all the thoughts above. I especially remember Ira's great interest in, and support of, Peninsula Habitat for Humanity as we were building many homes in Redwood City.

Like this comment
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

So sorry to hear of this outcome. He has been missed and will continue to be.
Condolences to the family.

Like this comment
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Our region has lost a thoughtful and hard-working leader.

It's also worth mentioning that Ira worked to pass the legislation that created the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency. This agency gives representation to all of us on the Peninsula who use Hetchy-Hetchy water and who would have had to pay for the repairs to the system without any voice in the process, if it were not for Ira's efforts.

He was a great leader for the environment, education, honest government and human rights. With condolences to his family at this time of loss.

Like this comment
Posted by Jackson
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm

He was quite a cautious guy willing to listen to all sides of an issue.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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