As City Council President, Charles Samuels sometimes adopts a fatherly tone while he presides over sometimes-raucous meetings. He once threatened to "turn this building around and go back home," if the unruly crowd that filled the chambers didn't simmer down.
But don't be fooled by his occasionally paternal demeanor. At 38, Samuels is the youngest council member to wield the gavel as City Council president under the city's council-mayor form of government.
First elected in 2008, Samuels represents the Fan District. He got involved in politics through his neighborhood association, where he was the first renter to serve as president — a particular point of pride, Samuels says.
In council chambers, Samuels has had a front-row seat and decisive voice in the long, divisive debate about how to redevelop Shockoe Bottom. The announcement from him and fellow councilman, Jon Baliles, that they would vote against Mayor Dwight Jones' stadium proposal directly preceded Jones' decision to pull it from consideration.
Being a City Council member isn't a full-time job, and between government meetings, Samuels is a practicing lawyer, working primarily in the city's juvenile court to represent children accused of crimes. He also serves as a legal guardian and conservator for incapacitated adults and disabled veterans.
Samuels acknowledges that it isn't the most financially rewarding path a lawyer can take. For many of the clients he's appointed to represent, he collects a maximum fee of $75 per hearing. He says his wife, Krista, jokes that every year he "finds a way to make less money doing more work."
But it's rewarding in other ways, he says. For example, he's sometimes appointed to represent unaccompanied minors who arrive in the country. Then he'll be responsible for helping them find their family here to avoid being deported back to "a really horrible situation." It can be daunting, he says, but the chance to affect their lives for the better is "really, really cool."