THE BLOG
12/24/2013 12:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 23, 2014

Astoria Characters: The Chief of Staff

It's hard for Samantha Darche to keep a straight face. Every time she sees the camera, she cracks up. No matter what she does, she can't subpoena her solemn face.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Samantha's the chief of staff for Assemb. Simotas.

As the chief of staff and legislative counsel for Assemb. Aravella Simotas, Samantha's used to being on the other side of the lens. And while she has prepped her boss for countless interviews, she has no clue what to do or say when the story is all about her.

Take her name. It's Samantha, but after people know her for two minutes, they always call her Sam. Her preference? She doesn't have one.

If you ask her, she'll tell you that she really is a very serious woman. She is, after all, a lawyer. And she wears horn-rimmed glasses to counterbalance her cascading corkscrew curls.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Call her Samantha or Sam -- your choice.

"I've always had a sense of justice, of what should be, and how to make it happen," she says. "And I started arguing as soon as I was speaking."

Those first words were uttered on the Upper East Side, where Samantha grew up. She was an only child until her parents divorced when she was a toddler. Her mom and dad married other people, which made Samantha happy because she got a little sister and two sets of doting parents.

Her mother left her high-profile corporate job to stay home with Samantha, who was sent to private schools.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Samantha's trying to look serious.

"By the time I was 12, I knew I wanted to be an attorney, a prosecutor and the president of the United States," she says.

At 34, she's achieved two out of three, and the president's job, well, she's no longer interested, thank you very much.

Always studious, she enrolled in Colgate, whose upstate campus she never bothered to visit beforehand.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She's a lawyer and ex-prosecutor.

"It was a real culture shock because I'd never been to the suburbs," she says. "While I was reading, people were partying and drinking shitty beer."

It took great effort, but Samantha did manage to adjust. She graduated cum laude.

And she learned how to have a good time. When asked to elaborate, her "no comment" comes out as a chuckle.

To save money for law school, she moved back home with her mother and worked as a paralegal for a well-known white-shoe law firm.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She's passionate about shaping policy.

After graduating from Brooklyn Law School, she got her dream job: She became an assistant district attorney handling misdemeanor cases in Kew Gardens.

Her first day there, her birthday, she met the fellow newbie who would, two years later, get down on one knee and present her with a diamond engagement ring in court. As a prosecutor and as a woman, Samantha couldn't refuse his passionate public proposal: He requested a lifetime sentence.

She felt that being a prosecutor was her calling.

"I loved being in court," she says. "I liked the sound of my own voice, and I liked arguing for people and fighting for the things I believed in."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The camera cracks her up.

After five years of nine- and 10-hour days, she decided to go back to school.

"I was seeing the same people and the same profiles of people all the time," she says, "and I felt like I was emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. I wanted to do something to affect the tide. I thought I could have a greater impact by focusing on policy."

It was while working on her master's in public administration last year that Samantha became a member of Simotas' team.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She's staying put.

"I'm in the right place," she says. "I'm doing the work I want to do for someone who has the same goals and ideals I do."

She likes the idea of putting thoughts into action, pointing to the Community Full Disclosure Act, the first major project she worked on with Simotas. Signed into law this year by the governor, it gives community boards and municipalities access to more detailed information from businesses seeking to set up shop.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Sam can't wait to get to work.


When it comes to her own future, Samantha sees herself sitting at her desk in Simotas' office. She picks up the framed photo of her and her husband. It's always turned so she can see it. She thinks it looks perfect just where it is.

Although Samantha's ready to follow Simotas to higher office should that occur, she dismisses the idea of throwing her own hat into the political ring.

If she did that, she'd have to have her picture taken.

A lot.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2013 by Nancy A. Ruhling