Bill Conway is in one of the most closely watched races locally: the electoral contest for Cook County state's attorney.
Current attorney Kim Foxx has single-handedly put the office in the national spotlightmost notably for her handling of the Jussie Smollett case. However, the telegenic Conway has inundated local airwaves with ads, and has been the subject of claims that he is buying the election.
Windy City Times: This is your first time running for office. What's been the most surprising thing so far?
Bill Conway: I actually have enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. I like meeting people and hearing the problems and issues people have [as well as] what they want to see in the state's attorney's office and the criminal justice system. Surprisingly, I've also come to like parades, but I do like the consistent talks about policy more than I thought I would.
WCT: And I have to ask: Who came up with the URL for your website, NewDayConway.com?
BC: [Laughs] I hired a friend who is involved in marketing for Kraft/Heinz. I mentioned to him that I wanted to find something that's catchy, and I wanted to turn the page on the current administration. You can't say "RightWayConway" in the Democratic primary, and there were other ones that didn't sound right. Then I woke up one morning and I got a text from him in three in the morning that said, "You know, I was drinking scotch and you'll never believe what I came up with: NewDayConway." I said, "Yeahthat's it."
I think it encapsulates what we're trying to dobring a fresh perspective. I like its symbiosis with Lori Lightfoot's "bringing in the light."
WCT: Speaking of Lori Lightfoot, she is backing one of your opponents [Kim Foxx]. Does that surprise you?
BC: I don't really have a problem with it. Incumbent Democrats tend to support incumbent Democrats. I don't think it's going to come down to endorsements; I think it's going to come down to what people want out of the state's attorney's office. What I want people to know if that we're going to try to balance our criminal-reform efforts, we're going to get after our gun-crime epidemic by trying to get after the supply chain that brings them here, and get the politics out of the office. Our message seems to be resonating.
WCT: You mentioned guns. What's wrong with Kim Foxx's Gun Crime Strategies Unit?
BC: Well, there are a few things. First off, I believe that if someone commits a crime with a gun, that person should go to jail, and there are mechanisms within the Bail Reform Act that allow for thatif someone is a habitual criminal, or possession of a machine gun or possession of a gun by a felon. The state's attorney can petition for that person to be held with no bail, and that office today doesn't do that.
However, if we're really going to go after the gun-crime epidemic, we have to work our way up the supply chain and get the people who traffic in guns by the hundreds. I like the idea of the Gun Crime Strategies Unit in theory, but if you're letting people bond out early and you're not working your way up the supply chain, then it's like cutting the finger off a monster repeatedly instead of going after the head.
WCT: I saw on your website where you stated that the Cook County jail system is "one of the nation's largest drug rehabilitation facilities and mental health care providers." Could you talk about that some more?
BC: Cook County Jail isand I'm taking this from what [Sheriff] Tom Dart saidis the largest mental health clinic in Illinois and maybe the nation. I don't put this at Ms. Foxx's or Sheriff Dart's feet, but maybe there's something wrong in our society if that's the case. The city [should] find a way to open the mental-health clinics and work with city leaders to get [the mentally ill] the help they need.
WCT: One of the knocks against you is that you're trying to buy the election through your father [a billionaire who donated $7.5 million to the campaign] and through The Carlyle Group [a D.C.-based hedge fund his father, William Conway, co-founded]. How do you respond to that?
BC: I haven't been shy about the fact that my family have used significant resources to get our message out there. And the fact of the matter is that I'm running against an entrenched [political] machine. The machine puts someone in power, and that person feels like he owes the machine; when I'm elected, I'm not going to owe anyone. I can promise there will be a public-corruption reckoning in Cook Countyand, with this administration, I don't know of any public-corruption prosecution that's happened. I can't name one case.
WCT: So you like how the Jussie Smollett case is going now? [Note: On Feb. 11, Smollett was indicted by a special Cook County grand jury on six counts of disorderly conduct against him for allegedly arranging a racist, homophobic attack on himselfnearly a year after the state's attorney's office dropped all charges.]
BC: Well, at the point you have [Special Prosecutor] Dan Webb cleaning up Ms. Foxx's mess. I think she still doesn't quite understand why people are upset about it. The first thing is the brazen, unequal justice he got. Dan Webb said the state's attorney's office could not provide one case in which someone was treated the sameand that includes my client Candace Clark.
But the second thing isand there's no way of sugarcoating thisMs. Foxx repeatedly lied to the public [about] this. She lied not only when she said she recused herself but also when she said repeatedly this office handles this kind of case, which we know is false.
WCT: Could you talk about your experience with LGBTQ-related issues?
BC: I grew up right near the Boystown areaand, in fact, my mom still lives there. I lived all over that area after college. As for cases, I mentioned my client Candace Clark, who had a case similar to Jussie's but she got different justice; she's a member of the LGBTQ community.
Additionally, I did prosecute a gentleman who was a Catholic school [employee] and member of the community who used the school credit card for personal expenses. We couldn't thrown the book at him, but I discovered he was a mentor to students who had been wrestling with LGBTQ issues; we allowed him to plead down to a misdemeanor and got court supervision, and was later allowed to have the case expunged. Today, he works at a local college. It's a case I'm very proud of.
What I can say is that, when I'm state's attorney, our office will be involved in outreach and advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community. We will have an outreach coordinator who's in touch with advocates. Additionally, we're going to make sure that our victims witness folks will be trained regarding LGBTQ issues. We're also going to give sex assault, domestic violence and human trafficking its own bureau; those are crimes where victims and survivors have unique needs and insight.
WCT: What do you think is the biggest problem for the LGBTQ community?
BC: The first thing I would say are the heightened rates of abuse and victimization. ( I refer you to the Tribune story that says that the LGBTQ community is the most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes. ) I promise you that we're going to be vigilant when it comes to prosecuting hate crimes.
The second thing is equal treatment. If there's any sort of discrimination when it comes to housing [or other areas], we will get after the [offenders] criminally and civilly.
WCT: What do you think is your biggest advantage and your biggest disadvantage in this race?
BC: [Pauses.] I think my biggest advantage is that I know exactly what I want to do as state's attorney. I've known that from the get-go, and I've able to say consistently that we're going to balance our criminal-justice reform efforts. We're going to go after the gun-crime epidemic and we're going to get politics out of office.
My biggest disadvantage is that I'm a first-time candidate. Because of that, when I ask questions I actually answer them. [Laughs] That may be a disadvantage, but I am learning.
Conway's website is NewDayConway.com .