Former three-term state California Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, whose 21st Assembly District included wealthy communities on the Peninsula as well as Los Gatos and the Almaden Valley, died Thursday evening at the age of 70. He had been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor three years ago.
Ruskin, an affable man with a gentle demeanor, owned a small high tech communications consultancy before entering public life. He served on the city council of Redwood City from 1995 to 2004 and is credited with championing the city’s downtown renovation, including the restoration of its courthouse and theater.
An active member of the Committee for Green Foothills, Ruskin was elected to the Assembly in November 2004 in what was called the “most expensive race in the history of California.” He was rated highly by consumer, labor, women’s, minority and environmental organizations, low by business groups and zero by the gun owners’ lobby and the California Taxpayer Association.
Ruskin introduced bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and finance underground storage tank removal. He authored a 2008 bill to require thermostat manufacturers to collect and recycle mercury thermostats that was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. He also attempted to give the California Coastal Commission the ability to levy fines and keep the money, replacing the judicial process that redirected the money elsewhere. That law passed in the Assembly but got stuck on the Senate floor.
Another of Ruskin’s early bills killed by parliamentary maneuvers was a piece of pro-consumer legislation to give mobile phone customers 30 days to get out of a new long-term contract.
According to public databases, Ruskin raised $2 million in 2004 to defeat Steve Poizner, who spent $6.6 million, most of it Poizner’s own money. A third of Ruskin’s funding ($666,641) came from the California Democratic Party and almost 20 percent ($390,159) came from the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee. Trade unions contributed another $224,817. Ruskin put $87,000 of his own money into the race.
He raised $595,804 in 2006 and beat Virginia Chang Kiraly by more than 2-to-1 to win re-election. In 2008, he brought in $489,918 to overwhelmingly defeat Republican Ann Marie Temple. His left the legislature in 2010 due to term limits.
Ruskin, born in New York City to a Jewish family, was an activist on behalf of wartime Bosnian Muslim rape victims before entering elective office.
He earned an MA in Communications at Stanford University and a BA in History, from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1968.
He is survived by his wife, Cheryl.