LDS transplant enjoying Sunshine State politics

Missionary language skills useful in city campaign

March 19, 2005

By Jason Swensen
Church News staff writer

      Politics enjoys giggling in the face of improbability. Exhibit A: an Austrian-born bodybuilder-turned-action flick star/Republican marries into the most storied family of the opposing party and gets himself elected governor of California.

Troy Samuels visits with a constituent during his campaign for city commissioner in Miramar, Fla. He went on to win the election by some 300 votes. Many here have Haitian roots and speak Creole, which he learned on a mission to Haiti.

Photo courtesy Troy Samuels


      Call Troy Samuels Exhibit B: a 34-year-old former bishop and a native Hoosier, Brother Samuels recently claimed a seat on the Miramar City Commission in South Florida after running a campaign conducted in large part in the Creole tongue favored by many of the city's Haitian-Americans.
      Brother Samuels admits he's followed a weird path into Sunshine State politics. A lifelong Church member, he was born in Indiana and accepted a call to the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission. There he developed a love for Haiti and its people, culture and language. Near the end of his mission, political troubles on that Caribbean island nation prompted the evacuation of American-born missionaries. Elder Samuels spent the last several weeks of his mission in Florida teaching the gospel to Creole-speaking people.
      While serving in Florida, Elder Samuels met Jennifer Lunetta, a local Church member. The two later developed a friendship when they were both enrolled at Brigham Young University. They began dating and eventually married.
      After finishing school, the Samuels returned to Florida to be close to her family, serve in the Church and start a family of their own. Brother and Sister Samuels have two sons: 9-year-old Ryan and Coby, 5. They belong to the Palm Springs Ward, Hialeah Gardens Florida Stake.
      A financial controller for a construction company, Brother Samuels first heard a call to public service two years ago. He challenged an incumbent on the Miramar City Commission, "and came up a little short." Determined to try again, Brother Samuels ran against the same man a second time, defeating his opponent in their rematch by about 300 votes.
      Thanks to his language skills and Church background, Brother Samuels made for an unusual candidate.
      Miramar boasts a large Caribbean-American community that includes many Haitians. During his campaign, Brother Samuels participated in several live interviews on local Haitian radio stations. Listeners were amazed to hear a transplant from the Midwest responding to their questions in Creole. Meanwhile, Brother Samuels' obvious affection and familiarity with Haitian-American culture and concerns "generated a lot of support."
      Questions about Candidate Samuels' language skills typically led to discussion of Brother Samuel's religious faith. There was not "a single time" during the campaign "when I didn't talk about the Church . . . it was a great missionary experience."
      Local media coverage of the Miramar elections made mention of Brother Samuels' service as a bishop that included stewardship over Haitian neighborhoods.
      Brother Samuels is certain his relationship and familiarity with Miramar's Haitian-American community played a pivotal role in defeating his incumbent opponent a man of Caribbean descent.
      As a city commissioner, Brother Samuels will participate in approving city budgets and contracts and legislating city laws and ordinances. He hopes to bring increased accountability to his newly elected position. Brother Samuels' term ends in 2009. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of higher office in the future. "I'll take these four years and see what it brings," he said.