Ira Ruskin, the former longtime Redwood City councilman whose election race for state Assembly was the most expensive in state history at the time, died Thursday night from complications of a brain tumor.
Ruskin, 70, was at home under hospice care when he passed away around 8:30 p.m. July 3, 2014, said former council colleague and friend Jim Hartnett.
Ruskin is survived by his wife, Cheryl.
Ruskin underwent emergency surgery in May 2011 about two weeks after first being diagnosed with an incurable tumor. Surgeons were able to remove about 95 percent of the malignant tumor above his right ear and he battled the remainder with medical interventions.
“He knew he was terminal. It was just a matter of time,” Hartnett said.
But Hartnett preferred to focus not on how Ruskin passed but how he lived and contributed to Redwood City.
“He was the ultimate community servant. I think that is how I would encapsulate his life. He was devoted to the community. He really cared and wanted to do the right thing,” said Hartnett who served with Ruskin the entirety of his 10-year council service which included time as mayor.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, also recalled his friend as “a compassionate and dedicated public servant in the truest sense of the word.”
At the time of his diagnoses, Ruskin had been termed out of the Assembly for the seat currently held by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and was biding his time until former state senator Joe Simitian’s seat was to open in 2012. His diagnosis sidelined those plans.
At the time, Ruskin told the Daily Journal he planned to look inside himself to “see what I want to do now and how to contribute to the community in a different way.”
Ruskin, a Democrat, was first elected to the Assembly in 2004, beating out Republican candidate Steve Poizner who spent approximately $6 million of his own money on the general election and made history as being the most expensive state race at the time. While Ruskin had statewide consultants that election, Hartnett recalled the earlier primary as the little campaign that could. Ruskin’s staff was himself, his wife, Hartnett and “one other guy,” Hartnett recalled. On Election night, Ruskin was losing and the Palo Alto restaurant where they were waiting kicked them out. By the time the group arrived at Hartnett’s Redwood City office, he remembers “we were winning and hadn’t even known.”
In his first term in the Assembly, Ruskin was one of five freshmen members to chair a standing committee, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. He established himself as a leader on environmental issues and propelled legislation on water and air quality improvements, California greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and the use of alternative fuel vehicles. He also co-chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education. Ruskin was re-elected to the 21st District seat in both 2006 and 2008 before being termed out in 2010.
Ruskin was generous with his time, knowledge and experience for constituents and colleagues alike, Hill said.
Prior to joining the state Legislature, former communications consultant Ruskin had a long career in Redwood City politics. He lost his first run for council but was elected in 1995 and twice after. He served as mayor from 1999 to 2001. He also served on numerous regional committees, task forces and foundations focused on transportation, education, criminal justice and the environment.
Hartnett believes Ruskin’s public service was exemplified more by his local activities than those at the state because they had more of a dramatic impact on the community. Those in office now agree.
When people look around the city’s renovated downtown, they have Ruskin to thank, said Mayor Jeff Gee.
“He was here in the beginning when the council said we need a new vision, we need to transform our downtown. One of his priorities downtown were the theater and courthouse renovation and he helped lay the foundation and was there when those two pieces came together,” Gee said.
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