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Unknown former prosecutor with deep pockets eyes campaign against Foxx

Military record and family resources help make Bill Conway a name to be taken seriously

Bill Conway, a former local prosecutor and Navy veteran, wants to run against Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Mark Brown

Bill Conway wants to run against Kim Foxx for the Democratic nomination for Cook County state’s attorney.

Bill who? Glad you asked.

Conway, 41, spent six years as an assistant state’s attorney under Richard Devine and Anita Alvarez, acquiring skills he more recently put to use as a U.S. Naval intelligence officer helping disrupt the Taliban’s flow of cash from illicit narcotics.

Locally, he worked in the financial crimes and special prosecutions section, going after a variety of government officials and employees for misconduct, including three police officers.

As a Naval Reservist on active duty, he was sent to Qatar in 2017 and put to work tracing the Taliban’s money supply, leading to a series of bombing raids on drug processing labs in Afghanistan that made him the subject of a New York Times profile.

Conway has a law degree from Georgetown, an M.B.A. from University of Chicago and an accounting degree from the Wharton School.

Bill Conway, center, a Naval reservist who is preparing to run for Cook County state’s attorney
Bill Conway, center, a Naval reservist who is preparing to run for Cook County state’s attorney, oversaw a team of military analysts in Afghanistan that sought to cut off funding to the Taliban by bombing drug labs.
U.S. Air Force photo

There’s one other small factor to consider: his father, William E. Conway Jr., is the billionaire co-founder of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms.

The younger Conway says he has not made a final decision on whether to challenge Foxx in her re-election bid, but if he does mount a campaign, he said he expects to devote “significant personal and family resources” to the race.

Many believe Foxx is politically vulnerable going into 2020 because of the continued fallout over her handling of the Jussie Smollett case, which ramped up again Friday when a Cook County judge decided a special prosecutor should review the matter.

Numerous challengers are said to be eyeing the contest. But Conway is the first person I’ve found willing to raise his hand and ask to be considered.

Conway skipped last week’s pre-slating meeting of the Cook County Democratic Party, and he told me he won’t seek the organization’s endorsement if he runs.

“I think the state’s attorney’s office should be independent of the Cook County Democratic Party,” he said. “Frankly, that’s not my crowd. I don’t know those people.”

At this point, party leaders are expected to stick with Foxx.

Asked why he wants to be state’s attorney, Conway cites his tenure as an assistant in the office from 2006 to 2012 and the satisfaction he got from working on behalf of crime victims.

“Frankly, it was the best job I ever had,” he said. “I’m very passionate about my time as an ASA and about that office. And I don’t think that office is headed in the right direction, and quite frankly, I humbly suggest I know how to fix it.”

“First off, I want to bring real integrity and independence to that office,” he continued. “With that I mean that we should all be playing by the same rules. You enter the criminal justice system as a victim or as a defendant, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your ZIP code, whether you’re connected or not, none of that stuff should matter in how your case is handled.”

That was a not so veiled reference to the allegation Foxx was influenced to go soft on Smollett.

Asked specifically about Smollett, Conway said, “Look, I don’t particularly care about Jussie Smollett. I didn’t want him to go to prison. I don’t think most people did. But the fact of the matter was we pulled back the onion on that and saw that case was treated differently because somebody who was connected reached out and asked for it to be treated differently.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, left; Actor Jussie Smollett, right. File Photos.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, left; Actor Jussie Smollett, right. File Photos.
Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times; Paul Beaty/AP

After charges were dropped against Smollett, Conway stepped in to represent another woman, Candace Clark, who had been the subject of a Sun-Times story about a judge’s complaint that she was being treated more harshly by Foxx’s office for a very similar crime.

Conway was able to slightly improve her plea deal, but argues she was still treated unfairly. He said he would have taken the case even if he wasn’t making preparations to run against Foxx.

If elected, Conway said he will place more emphasis on prosecuting public corruption cases while also drawing on his experiences targeting the Taliban to trace the money supply in gun crimes.

Oddly enough, Conway hasn’t been practicing law. After picking up his MBA while working for the state’s attorney, he spent three years as an investment banker for J.P. Morgan.

Since returning from active duty with the Navy, Conway has been teaching finance at DePaul University and managing a family investment fund. He got married last August.

Conway is a complete unknown but has the kind of money that can make a first-time candidate into a contender.