Elected officials have it “ruff.” The work is endless, the demands ever-changing and their days are, by virtue of term limits, numbered. Nevertheless, politicians from the Bay Area often ascend to regional and national leadership; just look at Pelosi, Newsom, Feinstein and most notably — Oakland’s own Kamala Harris, now the vice president-elect. As the Bay Area winds down from last month’s elections at the county, state and national level, let us reflect on the legacy of one of our greatest civic leaders who stayed true to his hometown, the dog mayor of Sunol, Bosco Ramos.
Not much had happened in the “unincorporated census-designated place” of Sunol, tucked between Fremont and Pleasanton, before the 1980s. Before European contact, the Ohlone people lived in long-established villages in the area, but in the 1800s, European settlers brought new diseases that devastated the Ohlone population. In the 19th century, the modern-day hamlet was established and named Sunol, after one of the recipients of the Rancho El Valle de San José Mexcian land grant, Antonio Maria Suñol, a Spanish immigrant who became a wealthy merchant and postmaster. Today, as part of Alameda County, Sunol defers to the county local government, but in 1981, that didn’t bother Bosco.
The announcement of his landslide win by write-in (75 of the total 120 votes) was certainly shocking, but not unwelcome in a tight-knit town eager for a political leader that could also be man’s best friend. Bosco, or Mr. Ramos, was young (even in dog years) and inexperienced compared to his two bipedal, homosapien opponents, but he represented a shift in who could be mayor — he was adopted, from a mixed background (black Lab and Rottweiler), loyal to his base and eloquent on the issues. The platform he unequivocally won on and stood by was “a bone in every dish, a cat in every tree, and a fire hydrant on every corner.”
Bosco was a dog of the people, seen frequently walking the street, hanging out in front of the local bar, mingling in the park. His approach to politics was internationally renowned, sparking a defamatory editorial by the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily in 1989. Of course he paid it no mind, as he was by then a seasoned politician — you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Only death could abdicate him from his role, leading the town of Sunol for 13 years before he passed and went to heaven (as all dogs do) in 1994. His legacy, which will celebrate 12 years this December, has been cemented in the heart of the town — literally.
Local businessman Mike Cerny copyrighted and opened Bosco’s Bones & Brew in 1999 in homage to the canine civil servant. (Cerny shut down the brewpub in 2003, but it reopened under new ownership in 2004.) On December 19, 2008, a bronze statue of Bosco’s likeness, made by sculptor Lena Toritch, was unveiled in front of the town post office. It seemed nearly everyone in the crowd had a memory of the good boy.
Bosco stood by residents as a beacon of support after a fire in 1987 destroyed the town’s 125-year old Lyon’s brewery. He even attended a pro-democracy rally in 1990 at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco after the foreign press’ smear campaign, having been invited by local students.
Though he ran after his surprise election as a “Re-pup-lican,” Ramos is remembered as nonpartisan, unafraid to get into a tug-of-war with residents on hard issues and never one to show his belly, even if it affected his approval rating. In dire straits, Bosco Ramos showed us how to unite a town. The big dogs could stand to learn a thing or two.