Anne Rudin, first woman elected mayor in Sacramento history, dies at 97

·5 min read

Former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin, a champion of women’s rights and a tireless progressive advocate, died on Thursday, according to family members. She was 97.

Rudin was first elected to the City Council in 1971 — at the time, the first woman to be elected to the dais in two decades — and was elected as the city’s mayor in 1983. She served two terms as mayor up until 1993, when she decided not to run for re-election. She was followed in office by Joe Serna Jr.

Before holding elected office, Rudin was the president of the California League of Women Voters, and she was active in the community as an activist. An archived Sacramento Bee article from November 1969 described Rudin’s calls for improved housing in the city as president of the state league and the “deep and growing” problem on the issue of housing as a representative of the women’s league.

She was described in a 1973 Bee article as “perhaps the hardest working council member,” but drew criticism from opponents for indecisiveness.

She was also the first woman to be popularly elected as mayor of Sacramento. Belle Cooledge, the first woman to serve as mayor of Sacramento, was appointed to the mayoralty in 1948, but not elected. Cooledge was also the last woman on the City Council prior to Rudin’s election.

Rudin was the eldest of three children born to an Italian American family. Her father immigrated to the United States from Sicily and settled in Hammonton, New Jersey. She attended schools in Hammonton and nearby Philadelphia, and went on to study at Temple University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education and became a registered nurse. She taught in the school of nursing at Temple, and later earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. She also taught at the Mt. Zion Hospital School of Nursing in San Francisco. Rudin moved to Sacramento in the late 1950s.

Former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo — who was the second woman elected to the office — told The Bee that Rudin “broke the glass ceiling, but it wasn’t just about that.” More importantly, Fargo said, Rudin was a competent and compassionate mayor who led by example.

Incoming Mayor Joe Serna and outgoing Mayor Anne Rudin accept congratulations in November 1992 from a well-wisher at a gathering in the Bull Market restaurant, following the final City Council meeting for the outgoing mayor.
Incoming Mayor Joe Serna and outgoing Mayor Anne Rudin accept congratulations in November 1992 from a well-wisher at a gathering in the Bull Market restaurant, following the final City Council meeting for the outgoing mayor.

See Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin’s political career in pictures

Rudin was a friend and mentor to Fargo, who first met Rudin while she was working as an activist in the Natomas area. Fargo remembered Rudin for her attentiveness during council meetings, where she would often speak on issues pertaining to Natomas. The two would later work together for several years after Fargo was elected to the City Council in 1989.

“She wasn’t one of the council members that read the paper while I gave testimony,” Fargo said. “She paid attention to people.”

And that included her own staff, who Rudin encouraged and advocated on behalf of.

“It was almost all by example,” Fargo said. “She did it well and made it look like it was possible, which made her a very beloved mayor in a lot of areas.”

In a 1973 Bee article, Rudin encouraged other women to run for office, saying that even when losses “can bruise your self-esteem,” women should continue to seek office.

“Let (other candidates) think you are there in the wings as a threat if he isn’t going to pay attention to woman’s issues,” Rudin told The Bee at the time.

Rudin won by a thin margin in the 1983 mayoral race, which was caught up in the debate over a proposed arena, a potential temporary home for the relocating Kansas City Kings, which was planned for development in Natomas. Rudin opposed the proposal.

“If North Natomas opens up (for industrial development), the people who benefit are the people who buy and sell land,” she told The Bee a few months before the election. “The people who will lose are the citizens of Sacramento.”

After her victory at the ballot box, Rudin pointed to the arena as a key factor.

“The voters supported my position on the sports stadium — that it would be good to have one but not in North Natomas,” she told The Bee after her win over businessman Ross Relles was apparent.

By 1985, the Kings opted to instead build the original Arco Arena just outside city limits in Sacramento County. The second Arco Arena, now called Sleep Train Arena, was eventually built in North Natomas three years later.

Fargo said that Rudin’s vision as mayor “reached beyond Sacramento,” notably emphasizing broader acceptance of the LGBT community and promoting friendly relations with Japan, visiting the country several times while in office. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs awarded Rudin a commendation in 2005.

Councilwoman Anne Rudin stands on a street in Land Park, which is part of her district, on Jan. 17, 1979.
Councilwoman Anne Rudin stands on a street in Land Park, which is part of her district, on Jan. 17, 1979.

While she was a councilwoman in Sacramento, Rudin endorsed a city ban on indoor smoking in many public spaces, a restriction later adopted at the state level. Additionally, as mayor, she worked to pass a ban on assault weapons in the city, which was also later taken up statewide.

She continued to fight for progressive causes well after leaving office. Fargo recalled a time when Rudin warned her not to join the boards of too many organizations after her own time as mayor, as she had.

“She always had to be doing something,” her son Jay Rudin told The Sacramento Bee.

Although Fargo said that Rudin generally kept out of City Hall after leaving office, a 2013 report by the Sacramento News and Review described an impromptu appearance by Rudin, then age 89, at a city Planning and Design Commission meeting in order to push for the construction of a senior care facility amid concerns of neighborhood disruption.

“I would like other people to have the same benefits that I’ve had living here for the past 50 years,” she said, according to SN&R.

Jay Rudin described his mother, Anne, as a deliberate and honest individual, both at City Hall and at home raising her family.

“She didn’t rule with an iron fist but just with good sense, politeness and diplomacy,” he said. “That style never failed her.”

Rudin is survived by her four children, Nancy Robinson, Barbara Rudin, Carol White and Jay Rudin, plus many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her husband, Edward Rudin, a psychiatrist and professor at UC Davis Medical School, died in 2003.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting