When it comes to timing, Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun could have hoped for better. His tenure at the helm was bookended by crises.
“I started being mayor in the middle of a recession,” he said. “I’m ending it in a pandemic year. What does that say about my luck?”
But from 2009 to 2021, Braun said he left nothing on the table in terms of what he hoped to get done for Flossmoor as village president. In what was likely to be his last interview as mayor, Braun said he was prepared to leave office Monday, May 3, with his head held high about what he accomplished from bell to bell.
“When I decided I wasn’t going to run for a fourth term, I put together a priority list of things that I needed to get done, that I really wanted to get done,” Braun said, noting that it included hiring a fire chief and finding the money to address streets, sidewalks and flooding. “The goals that I had set in terms of walking out the door, we have been able to achieve.
“I’m pleased. I’m proud of the work we did.”
Braun originally moved to Flossmoor with his family in the late 1960s from Pittsburgh. He graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School and met a Flossmoor woman named Mary Irene Bramlette, whom he married in 1982 and is with to this day.
As a youth, Braun wanted to be a dentist but found himself getting no responses when he applied midyear to dental schools. His father, an educator who once wanted to be a lawyer, suggested his son consider law as a backup plan. So he applied to a midyear program offered by the John Marshall Law School and got accepted.
“It’s a good thing, because I didn’t get accepted into any dental schools,” he said with a laugh. “It took off from there.”
Braun passed the bar examination in 1980, and by the 1990s became a partner in Braun & Edwards, which has operated out of Flossmoor. In the mid ’80s, Braun took his first stab at politics by running for the H-F District 233 Board of Education, but it was ill-fated from the start. The district gave out the wrong forms, he said, and someone challenged his group’s candidacy.
“We all got kicked off the ballot, so we had to run as write-ins,” Braun said. “That was my first experience running for office here. I had to run as a write-in and lost.”
But Jerry Lambert, a fellow attorney and former Flossmoor trustee, encouraged his passion by offering Braun some volunteer work with the village.
“I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” Braun recalled. “And that’s how I got involved with the Planning Commission.”
After half of a decade on the commission, Braun’s attention turned to elected office. With some of the knowledge he had gained from his time on the commission, trustee seemed like an opportunity for him to serve in a new way. But once again, he was denied his ambition.
“First time I ran for trustee, it was for a two-year spot and I lost,” he said. “Then, I reran and got elected as a trustee.”
Braun finally joined the Village Board in 2003 and by the 2009 election had turned his attention to the position of mayor.
“For me, it was a traditional trajectory,” he said.
As the effects of the Great Recession were being felt nationwide, Braun saw opportunity for Flossmoor in a new approach, especially in securing funds from Washington to help locally.
“Flossmoor was not active regionally,” Braun recalled. “The village up to that point had been pretty insular in terms of what was going on in the outside communities.”
Braun said he does not blame the prior mayor, because “that was just the way things had been up to that point,” but the village did not have much of a relationship with state or federal officials at that time. They needed to start working together to bring money back to Flossmoor.
“That was my goal at that time,” Braun said. “I wanted to bring more economic development to the community and get a better relationship regionally.”
Getting elected to his first term was an eye-opener. Braun said before joining the Village Board, he did not truly appreciate the relationships members had with village staff. And the jump to mayor changed the roles and relationships once again.
“I think what I’ve learned from that process is there’s a big difference between campaigning and getting yourself elected, and doing the job,” Braun said. “Once you’re elected, it’s a different situation.”
In addition to some achievements he shared at his final full village board meeting as mayor, Braun said he is particularly proud of growing the Green Commission during his time. He said when he started, the village did not have any sustainability programs. So he fostered a committee that ultimately became a commission.
“I knew there was a group of people who were really interested in sustainability and environmental issues,” Braun said. “They’ve really done some great work.”
He also thinks Flossmoor has a stronger regional presence than it did in the past, in part because of his involvement with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. He is proud of the village’s financial stability, its bond rating and the good morale among village staff. He is happy with the police, fire and public works departments, as well as developments including Meijer, Starbucks, Buona Beef, CVS, AT&T and Children of America.
“The leadership is terrific here,” Braun said. “We’ve done pretty good on economic development, all things considered for a little village of our size.”
"A number of factors” led to Braun’s decision not to seek reelection. At the top of that list is knowing how much his family sacrificed with all of the meetings and night work over the years.
“I’ve got mixed emotions, for heaven’s sake,” Braun said. “Some things I’m going to miss; some things I’m not going to miss, but overall it’s time. I’ve had a good run here. I’ve enjoyed the public service here. It’s been a labor of love.
“It’s time for me to move on. This is a new chapter for me in my life.”
That new chapter includes retirement from his law work. Braun personally stopped taking clients Jan. 1, and his office is downsizing to a space in Tinley Park. Braun is hoping to spend some time out west, possibly looking for a second home near Henderson, Nevada. He might do some public service there, he said. He also may continue to do some charitable work in Flossmoor.
“I have this idea that there’s been so many great mayors who have served out here in the past, I’d like to see if I could get former mayors of the Southland here together for a little association of sorts,” he said. “With our experience, there’s a lot we can give back to our respective communities. All of that institutional knowledge is just sitting there from our work in the past.”
Braun admitted it has been “very tough” to step back and watch a contested race for the role that has been his for the past 12 years. But he took some solace in knowing his checklist is cleared.
“I’m happy with where the village stands at this point in time,” Braun said. “I think the village is in very good shape overall. I’m pleased with the work we’ve been able to do over the past years. And frankly, it’s time to give someone else a chance. Some fresh blood is good.”
Michelle Nelson is to take the oath of office the evening of May 3. Braun acknowledged that he did not support Nelson in her bid for mayor but truly wishes her the best. Knowing what it was like when he first stepped into that role a dozen years ago, he is doing what he can to make sure it is a “great transition period.”
“I want her to succeed,” he said. “I think Mayor Nelson’s going to do a good job here. Her heart’s certainly in the right place.”