It's been a remarkable stretch for at-large Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who topped the ticket in last November's at-large election and made history this week by becoming the first Haitian American to serve as Boston City Council president. On Tuesday, the day after her win, Louijeune spoke with GBH News about the symbolism of her election, her approach to politics, why she gave her predecessor flowers, and what her parents taught her about public life. This interview has been edited and condensed.

GBH NEWS: What did it mean for you to become city council president on Haitian Independence Day? [NOTE: Haiti declared independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804 and became the first Republic in the Western Hemisphere governed by Black men.]

LOUIJEUNE: Haitian Independence Day has always been something really big in my family, in my Haitian community. One of the reasons I had so many family in attendance for the presidency vote is because normally we would all be together at my aunt’s house in Randolph. We have a big family sleepover where we’d watch movies and cook Haitian street food. In the morning we eat Haitian independence soup, called Soup Joumou, and we have a family prayer to usher in the new year. Now, that didn’t happen this year, but my entire family was here for the inauguration and for the vote for presidency. And it was very meaningful. What it meant, the symbolism behind that, it’s incredible.

GBH NEWS: When you were sworn in, you made a point of thanking your predecessor as council president, Ed Flynn, and called him up to give him flowers. Why did you do that?

LOUIJEUNE: Number one, it’s important to show the former city council president that I’m grateful for his leadership. Although I’m so jazzed and excited and honored [to succeed him], I know that it comes with its challenges, so I did want to pay respect and honor him for his time in service. And it’s also important to show residents in the city that even when we have disagreements we can work together, we can be collegial, and transitions of power are normal things and we can support each other in those transitions.

GBH NEWS: You and a lot of your colleagues have said that the council needs to become less acrimonious and more collegial. What can you do as council president to help make that happen?

LOUIJEUNE: Historically, there were more lunches together, more [moments of] let’s go grab something to eat together, more lunch and learn opportunities. So I’ve already been talking with current councilors and past councilors about ways we can build the collegiality and work together.
Of course, it’s not going to be roses all the time. We have political differences, we’re a diverse city with a lot of people and so there are going to be a lot of opinions and approaches. And we debate those, as we should. But we should also be able to say hi to each other’s children and family and ask how each other are doing.
Some of it will happen naturally with personality changes, with the outgoing and incoming [councilors], and I think there’s some things we can do in leadership and central staff to encourage and foster a better work environment. The work is hard enough.

GBH NEWS: Toward the end of your speech you said you “unequivocally reject any zero-sum mentality that suggests that for one group to succeed, another must lose.” Can you give an example of how that mindset has created problems in the past?

LOUIJEUNE: I mean, you can look at school desegregation, and the idea that giving equal opportunity to a group that’s long been denied [resources] will jeopardize or hurt your education. As a nation, access to public pools: public pools were segregated, and when black kids were given access to public pools we saw a lot of cities and neighborhoods around the country closing them instead of giving access to everyone.
Look at the Pryde building in Hyde Park, which is a former middle school that’s going to be an LGBTQ+ friendly affordable housing development. It’s not going to be only for those who identify as LGBTQ+, but it is going to be a place that affirms residents who are.
We realize that we need to do work on affordable housing for everyone, but we know there are particular difficulties that our LGBTQ+ siblings face when it comes to accessing affordable housing. So a focus in this one area does not deny anybody else the fact that we’re working on their behalf as well. That’s sort of what I mean.

GBH NEWS: You also thanked your parents in your speech when you were sworn in, and noted they came to this country poor, Black, and not speaking the language. Can you say a bit more about how they helped you get to where you are?

LOUIJEUNE: My parents are workhorses. They came here and they worked incredibly hard. My dad’s first job was at Store 24 and my mom’s first job was at McDonald’s. They were working around the clock for the family they were creating here and their family back home.
We grew up in Mattapan and we didn’t have locks on our doors so folks could come in who would need food — my mom would make big pots of soup on the weekend and our home would serve as a refuge for those in need of food or who needed help filling out paperwork, because my parents understood how to navigate bureaucracies.
I am forever indebted to them. I always say: Yes, I have all these fancy degrees, Harvard Law School, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, all of that. But the reason I’m in public service is because what was exemplified for me growing up in Mattapan and Hyde Park having parents who are incredibly giving, incredibly communal, incredibly faithful. They’re just incredible humans.

GBH NEWS: Some people who read this will know that you worked for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign as senior attorney. But you also have a tie to former Mayor Tom Menino that I didn’t know about until today. What is it?

LOUIJEUNE: I was a student at the Kennedy School, and on the recommendation of [former state representative and lieutenant-governor candidate] Marie St. Fleur, my former boss, Mayor Menino appointed me to a committee to redesign our [public school] student assignment process.
I’m also a Hyde Park resident, grew up in Mattapan and Hyde Park. Mayor Menino was ever present. One of the biggest compliments I got when I first started running and as an elected was people saying wow, you’re like Menino, you’re everywhere. And to me that was just the highest compliment, because he was mayor for two decades, had a lasting and enduring impact. He was a model for how to show up and be in community with people.

GBH NEWS: You must have been thrilled when people said that to you.

LOUIJEUNE: And it’s not like I was actively thinking that Menino was the blueprint. I was thinking, how do I do this job in community? How do I do this job of being "at large," which means being everywhere, with an emphasis on communities that are often forgotten and excluded like Black and brown communities, immigrant communities, folks returning home from incarceration, LGBTQ+ people, neighborhoods like East Boston or Charlestown that feel like they are not centered in the City of Boston? And then someone commented on Facebook, they mentioned that. And I was like, Wow, that is one compliment that I definitely accept.

GBH NEWS: Three of your new colleagues won election with support from Mayor Wu, and she attended fundraisers for several others who were reelected, including you. Do you think that’s going to make it hard for the council to push back at the mayor on policy?

LOUIJEUNE: We have an obligation. We were elected by the voters in the city of Boston, and we have a responsibility to be accountable to them. I think the mayor has a bold vision for our city, and I look forward to continuing the collaboration and the work, but none of us are meant to be rubber stamps.
We review what they mayor proposes, we ask the tough questions, we edit and adjust. And we vote yes when appropriate and we’ll vote no when appropriate, or ask for more information. I do think we need to realize we’re all on the same team, making Boston more equitable and more prosperous and more affordable. But debate is is healthy. Disagreement is healthy, as long as we do it within the bounds of decency.

GBH NEWS: After you were inaugurated you told the Globe that it was important to remember that despite your new title, “I am no one’s boss.” Why is that something you want people to keep in mind?

LOUIJEUNE: There’s obviously power and tone setting that comes with the title, but often people will misconstrue things and say the mayor is my boss. No, the mayor’s not my boss. The voters are my boss. And for each one of my elected official colleagues, the voters are our collective bosses, not anyone who’s also holding elected office.
I’m the president of the council; I’ll help set the agenda and tone and help with assignments of work on the council. But there’s no colleague of mine where I feel like their boss. That’s not the dynamic.