The race for Oak Park village trustee is full of familiar faces, with three incumbents and one former trustee running, but one candidate lacks the name recognition of his counterparts. That candidate, litigator and family man Brian Straw, is making a play for office after campaigning on behalf of past village board hopefuls.
“The reason people should vote for me is because we need folks in Oak Park who are ready to think creatively, think outside of the box about what we can be doing to make Oak Park what it can be and what it needs to be for the next generation,” Straw told Wednesday Journal.
Straw currently sits on the Oak Park Transportation Commission, hearing the community’s parking and traffic concerns and making recommendations to the village board for improvement. If elected trustee, he plans to make issues of transportation a larger priority for the board.
“It is a microcosm of a lot of the important values we hold in Oak Park,” Straw said.
He defined those Oak Park values as commitments to equity, safety, sustainability and affordability. The village board, he believes, needs to protect those values not just for Oak Park residents but for its local business interests. Straw called small businesses the “backbone” of the village’s economy.
“We have a reputation of the village being very focused on the big development deals and not always recognizing the importance of small businesses in our community,” he said.
Straw moved to Oak Park in 2014 with his wife Shannon, whose mother grew up in the village, and their young son, David, now eight years old. A supporter of public schools, David attends Horace Mann Elementary School, while their youngest, 3-year-old daughter Maddy, goes to a Montessori preschool.
Understanding the considerable time commitment of village trustees, Straw said he and his wife had many conversations about the pros and cons of running for and serving in elected office. He also spent time trying to educate their children on the importance of engaging in government. The opportunity to lead by example, while giving back to the community, was one of the deciding factors in announcing his candidacy.
“It’s really important to communicate to our children how we actually live our values,” he said.
In the last round of local elections, back in 2021, Straw volunteered on behalf of “Represent Oak Park,” an unofficial slate of Black village board candidates that included Trustee Chibuike Enyia and Village Clerk Christina Waters.
As an attorney with Greenburg Traurig, Straw concentrates on commercial and business litigation, as well as consumer class action suits and financial services and securities litigation.
“My day job is resolving complicated disputes between parties,” he said.
In his pro bono work, he focuses on issues of immigration, asylum, discrimination and constitutionality. For his efforts, he was named Greenburg Traurig’s “Chicago Outstanding Pro Bono Individual” in 2017. He also won the “Greenburg Traurig Team Pro Bono” award in 2019.
His community service isn’t restricted to the courtroom, however. He sat on the board of the non-profit organization Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors, which provides legal services to immigrants. Straw also protested against President Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban, traveling to airports and offering legal support to people facing difficulty getting through U.S. Customs. The ban prohibited travel and refugee resettlement from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – all predominantly Muslim countries.
Straw’s more recent pro bono work includes representing a group of transgender women challenging the Illinois name change statutes, so that people can have names reflective of their gender.