By ETHAN STARK-MILLER
Ruth Mullen was known in many circles throughout her life. But in this corner of the Bronx, she’s probably best known for her strong political activism.
This was perhaps most visible when Alessandra Biaggi ousted Jeffrey Klein from the State Senate three years ago. Ruth has worked tirelessly on this campaign, says her husband Jim Bradley, coordinating many of these efforts with Riverdale Huddle – a local group of politically active women.
But Ruth’s life was tragically cut short last week as she simply tried to cross the street outside her Johnson Avenue home. Police said a Metropolitan Transportation Authority express bus was turning what many consider a dangerous corner with Kappock Street around 8:30 p.m. on September 7 and struck Ruth in the crosswalk. Ruth was 68.
The incident was all the more devastating as Ruth advocated traffic lights at this problematic intersection for many years. Instead, elected officials like Jeffrey Dinowitz got a third stop sign for the intersection – a neighbor says buses and cars usually run anyway.
When news of Ruth’s death broke early Wednesday morning, one of the first people to call Jim was the state senator.
“Alessandra told me she wouldn’t have been elected without Ruth,” Bradley said. “When Alessandra was trying to decide whether or not to run, she ran into the Huddle. And I remember Ruth coming back that day and said, ‘That’s her. She’s doing it. And she has. just threw all of her support behind her.
Ruth has always been politically active, Jim said. But it was Donald Trump’s surprise election against Hillary Clinton in 2016 that prompted her to take her to a new level.
“She cried every day,” Jim said. “And then she just got busy. And she said, ‘We’re going to find out, and we’re going to fix it. We have to start locally and we’ll just continue.
This election was “a life changing moment for many of us,” added Jim. “But especially for her. I lay down and helped whatever I could. But she leaned in very hard.
The Trump White House also inspired Ruth to join the Riverdale Huddle just a month after the former president was inaugurated – and just weeks after the group itself was formed. The Huddle has become one of Ruth’s most beloved communities, Jim said, to the point that she never missed any of their weekly meetings at An Beal Bocht Café.
Huddle member Elizabeth Cooke-Levy said Ruth’s impact on the group was significant, often shifting them from just discussing an issue to real political action.
“There are other people who will talk about injustice, Ruth was not a big talker,” Cooke-Levy said. “When she spoke, she would let us know relevant information about a topic and suggest or even urge us to join her in her volunteer efforts.”
Ruth, for example, was outraged by partisan gerrymandering when it came to drawing district boundaries for elected officials, and insisted that the topic remain high on the group’s agenda. She wouldn’t stop there, Cooke-Levy said. Ruth was hosting postcard-writing sessions in her apartment, using these handwritten messages from other Huddle members as a way to influence politics not only in New York City, but in other states that suffered gerrymandering.
“She would keep it all cheerful, positive and welcoming,” Cooke-Levy said. “And at the same time, motivate all of these people to be there. It would take me from a pretty distant worry about something to showing up and being part of a volunteer effort about it.
Ruth also spent many years as a polling agent, said fellow Huddle member Ellen Chapnick. Although not political, it demonstrated Ruth’s passion for securing and protecting citizens’ suffrage.
“And (she) really wanted people to have a voting system protected by people who were monitoring integrity,” Chapnick said. “She spoke knowingly about the ballots and how they were good or bad. And on the petition.
But it wasn’t fair as people sometimes do with their heads. She cared deeply about the underlying things in it all.
Ruth was a particularly powerful advocate for her neighbors at Winston Churchill. She even ran to represent her 2500 Johnson Ave., relying on the county committee, Chapnick said – a position she ultimately didn’t win.
“She had some common sense,” Chapnick said. “If she thought something needed to be done – even if it angered some of the powers that be and made them mad at her – she was doing what she thought was right.” She wasn’t going to be intimidated by people just because they were powerful politicians in the community. He was not interested in flattering people.
“Liked by many people”
But Ruth’s impact goes far beyond her political activism, Jim said.
She was born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, a small town of 42,000 people located about 10 miles south of Denver. She graduated from Colorado College in the early 1970s, and soon after moved to eastern New York City, where she received her MA in History from Columbia University.
After that, Ruth got really interested in two areas, Jim said – publishing and film. And she has spent a considerable amount of time succeeding in both.
“She worked in every part of publishing imaginable,” Jim said. “Including working at the Strand Bookstore. She worked as a writer. She worked as an editor. She worked as a proofreader. She has worked for many large publishing houses, (like) McGraw Hill.
Ruth then turned to film, getting her first job on the set of Sergio Leone’s 1984 crime epic “Once Upon a Time in America”. She rose through the ranks, said Jim, working and eventually running the production offices of many prominent directors.
His work included Susan Seidelman’s 1985 dramatic comedy “Desperately Seeking Susan” and a segment directed by Francis Ford Coppola in the 1989 anthology film “New York Stories” titled “Life Without Zoë.”
After the movie, Ruth returned to editing, said Jim, working as a freelance writer, editor and even ghostwriter. She joined the Editorial Freelancers Association board of directors in 2016, defending the labor rights of other entrepreneurs. She was elected co-executive of the association at the start of the year.
Ruth met Jim while working on the set of Joe Stone’s 1990 independent film “City Cup”, which was shot in North Carolina with Patrick Dempsey and Alan Arkin.
“That’s how we met and fell in love,” recalls Jim.
“She was my best friend for 32 years. She was my life and my lover. And she was the person I went to when I needed tough questions answered. And I don’t have it now – and it’s very difficult.
They moved to Winston Churchill in 1994, expanding their family by adopting daughters Lia and Maya.
Whatever part of Ruth’s life you look at, Jim said, her presence is felt everywhere – not just in the Spuyten Duyvil house they shared, but in the community itself.
“She made a difference,” he said. “She was a force to be reckoned with. She has had a very interesting and varied life. And she was loved by many people.