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.

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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Posted by harvardmom
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Ira was a nice man and will be missed. Four years ago he and I were bidding on the same item for a silent auction at a Democratic Party fundraiser, and kiddingly, I told him that elected officials weren't allowed to participate if their constituents were bidding on the same item. He got the hint and walked away, and thanks to him I won a very nice prize. A little anecdote like this makes me remember him personally and fondly.

I'm sorry to learn of Ira's passing and send condolences to his family.

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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I knew this fine man, having helped campaign for him over many years. I met him way back and must say this truly breaks my heart. He was really an honest, caring and decent person. All political people should be like Ira. I wish he had been able to live much longer and serve on the Senate as he wanted, plus enjoy many happy golden years. He deserved to.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 16, 2014 at 1:27 am

Sorry to hear of Ira's passing. He accomplished a lot for all of us and was an example of true public service.

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Posted by Lynn Huidekoper
a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2014 at 12:15 am

I just learned of Ira's death. He was so courageous in his fight against his brain tumor. He kept trying to attend Democratic functions when he was able. I knew Ira from politics for many years as a politically active RN. He supported Single Payer healthcare and other improtant social justice issues. I was sorry to miss his service. I am reading what his colleagues said about him. His true democratic ideals lead him to sponsor important bills that would help his constituents. He was not in politics for the fame. As someone else said, "why can't all public officials be like Ira?" I am honored to have known him.

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Posted by Stanley Kuperstein
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 4:49 pm

It's been many, many years since Ira and I graduated from Miami Beach High School (1961).
Ira and I were good friends and shared many fun times together. Although Ira was die-hard Yankee fan and I was a diehard Giant fan, we had many great baseball discussions.

It appears that Ira remained a 'good man' and served his community well.

My condolences to his wife.

Stanley Kuperstein

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Gemello

on May 29, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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