Ruthzee Louijeune: On top of her game
New council president is ready to challenge the status quo
As the new president of the Boston City Council, Ruthzee Louijeune has a lot of things — both big and small — on her mind.
She said she is focused on addressing large, complex issues such as education, “cost-prohibitive” upfront rental fees and increasing trash pickup in big buildings. But she also wants to make sure the council remains accountable for tackling everyday issues such as potholes and lighting in parks.
“It’s the small things that make people lose trust,” she said in a recent interview.
Louijeune, who lives in Hyde Park, is the first Haitian American elected to the council and the first Haitian American to serve as council president. She follows a string of Black women council pioneers: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who was the first Black woman ever elected to the body, and Andrea Campbell, the state’s attorney general, who became the first Black council president. Kim Janey, the city’s first Black mayor, also served as council president.
As the council’s leader, Louijeune said her work is about challenging the status quo.
“I just refuse to accept things as they’ve always been,” she said. “I want to help us imagine what a government that works for the people will look like.”
Her focus, particularly in the first year of her two-year term as city council president, is to make sure council members are in agreement about how to go about their work.
“[It’s about] just setting the tone and page for the work that we’re going to be doing, making sure that we’re centering equity in everything that we’re doing, especially when it comes to the big issues of education and of housing and policing,” she said.
More broadly, she said she wants to help bring the city together. During her New Year’s Day speech accepting the role of president, Louijeune said she rejects zero-sum mentalities.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said. “We can address historic inequities and continue to bring everyone along.”
Louijeune takes charge after a period of divisiveness and infighting on the council. She has, by most accounts, been seen as a steady force on the body.
Louijeune said she envisions more council events focused on unifying the council after years of discord, and she expressed hope for the four newly elected members.
“There are 13 people with their own personalities, their own agenda, but I think that we can find ways for our agendas to align,” she said. “A lot of people care about the same issues — how do we improve the quality of our schools and make sure that housing is a human right for every person? I think the challenge is finding the areas where we agree, but I think we’ll be able to get there.”
As the first Haitian American president of the council, Louijeune exemplifies the growing political clout in an area with a large Haitian population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Greater Boston area hosts the third-largest Haitian diaspora in the country.
“I’m the first Haitian American on the Boston City Council, I will have failed at my job if I am the last,” she said. “It’s about opening doors and making government more accessible and normalizing our presence in all spaces.”
She said she sees her role as the next step in a relatively new era of increased diversity on the council. Louijeune said while there’s been a lot of change in the composition of the body in the past 15 years, since Pressley was first elected on the council, there are still issues to work on.
“We’re talking about a short history of change and I’m excited to be part of that history and to see how we can work more on sharing power with all communities,” Louijeune said.