clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bill Conway, Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic candidate profile

He is a former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney and Navy intelligence officer.

Bill Conway, 2020 Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary election candidate.
Bill Conway, Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary candidate.
Provided photo

Candidate profile

Bill Conway

Running for: Cook County State’s Attorney

Political/civic background: Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney

Naval Intelligence Officer

Adjunct Professor, Finance - DePaul University

Occupation: Attorney

Education: University of Pennsylvania - BS

Georgetown University - JD

University of Chicago - MBA

Campaign website: newdayconway.com

Facebook: @NewDayConway2020

Twitter: @NewDayConway

Instagram: @2020newdayconway

YouTube: New Day Conway


The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Bill Conway submitted the following responses:

On January 29, 2019, the actor Jussie Smollett reported to the Chicago Police that he had been attacked by two white men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck. None of this proved to be true. What did the Cook County state’s attorney’s office do right or wrong in this case? What would you have done differently?

With Jussie Smollett, the State’s Attorney showed that the politically connected get better deals than other people. I have a client right now who, like Smollett, filed a false police report. But she doesn’t have powerful friends and she is not a Hollywood celebrity. As a result, my client has to go to court every month, report to a probation officer every month, maintain a job, pay restitution and get permission from a judge to leave Cook County, unlike Smollett. This is a case of unequal justice, and one that the State’s Attorney has not been honest with us about. Foxx’s story on how she handled the case changed half a dozen times and now she is being investigated for it.

As State’s Attorney, I will ensure that everyone is treated the same regardless of who they know and who they are connected to – there should not be a two-tiered system of justice. The State’s Attorney is supposed to be a beacon of public trust so people do not lose faith in the criminal justice system and clearly that trust was violated.

When is it appropriate to recruit the FBI and United States attorney’s office for assistance in cases that usually fall under state jurisdiction?

The Federal Government has resources that the State’s Attorney’s Office does not have and also has the ability to prosecute crime that occurs outside of Illinois. In some public corruption cases, the additional resources, both monetarily and legally that the Federal government has can be an asset to a case – such as increased surveillance ability. Additionally, when cases are followed and it’s clear that the crime is being committed across several jurisdictions, Federal law enforcement needs to be brought in, a particular problem when illegal guns are shipped into Cook County from states with more permissible gun sale laws.

Federal investigators are conducting a wide-ranging probe of Chicago area officeholders, including aldermen and state legislators. Why do you think these cases were not investigated and prosecuted by the state’s attorney?

One can speculate all day about why our current State’s Attorney has lacked the will or determination to go after brazen corruption. What I know is that once I am elected, I can promise that I will not owe anything to anyone besides the voters of Cook County. As a result, you can expect a significant increase in public corruption prosecution at the State Attorney’s Office.

What should the office’s priorities be?

Priority one needs to be making Cook County safe. That starts with getting illegal guns off the streets and making sure that if you commit a crime with a gun, you stay in jail. At the same time, we need to stop locking up nonviolent offenders who don’t pose a threat to our community. We also need to restore faith in the office by ending preferential treatment for the politically connected.

How would you describe the relationship between the state’s attorney’s office, the Fraternal Order of Police and suburban police departments? What should the office do, if anything, to improve these relationships?

When I think about how to build and maintain a positive relationship between our police officers and our prosecutors, I focus on one of the most important pillars of our legal system: the pursuit of justice. When I was in the State’s Attorney’s Office I worked with police officers who stayed up late, crying with victims and their families. I worked with police officers who drank coffee for days to solve crimes and catch people who were making our communities unsafe. They were pursuing justice and they worked closely with me because they knew I was a partner in that effort.

However, we also can’t hesitate to go after bad police officers. When I took my first police officer prosecution, I remember what more senior Assistant State’s Attorneys told me “if you go after cops you’ll never get police officers to work with you again.” But when a case came before me involving a law enforcement official who put a dementia-plagued man’s assets in his own name, I knew I had to do what was right. That cop broke the law and I prosecuted him, just like I did with several other corrupt public officials who thought our justice system’s rules didn’t apply to them. After convicting that officer, countless police officers thanked me for going after someone who was giving every good police officer a bad name.

In my experience, what unites good law enforcement officials — both our police officers and our prosecutors — is fighting for justice, no matter the cost. As Cook County State’s Attorney that’s exactly what I will do, and I know countless police officers across Chicago and its suburbs who will unabashedly work with me that in that effort.

Bail reform in Cook County has been praised for reducing the number of people held in jail while awaiting trial, but it has been criticized for making the public less safe. Do you support these changes? Why or why not? What steps should be taken next?

I am committed to stopping the unjustified incarceration of nonviolent offenders, and to that end I appreciate that bail reform has enabled more of those nonviolent offenders to keep their freedom and dignity. But when you have gun offenders getting arrested over the weekend and back on the streets by Monday afternoon, something isn’t working. We need to fix the system to make sure that those who pose a danger to our community aren’t just walking free.

What professional experience would you bring to the job of state’s attorney that would best qualify you to handle the office’s wide variety of criminal and civil cases?

I was an Assistant State’s Attorney in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from 2006-2012. In my first years there, I prosecuted a range of crimes including narcotics, misdemeanors, traffic cases, bond court and violent crime. From 2009-2012, I was in the Special Prosecutions Bureau in the Public Corruption and Financial Crimes unit. There, I prosecuted corruption, including embezzlement by local public officials. Since leaving the State’s Attorney’s Office, I have continued to do pro bono criminal work.

Since 2012, I have also served as a Naval Intelligence Officer in the reserves. In 2017, I deployed to Qatar and Afghanistan to lead a team tasked with targeting the Taliban’s finances and disrupt the flow of weapons to fighters. I am bringing that experience to the State’s Attorney’s office so we can similarly disrupt the financing and import of illegal weapons into Cook County.

Each candidate for state’s attorney has notable political supporters and donors. What would you do to assure that they do not have undue influence in your office?

Under the current State’s Attorney, we have seen millions of dollars flow from taxpayers back to her politically connected fundraiser and his clients, and we have seen the well-connected walk free while others pay the price for the same crimes. Cook County citizens deserve a State’s Attorney that will guarantee justice for all, regardless of race, zip code, wealth, or political connections. My office will bring new standards of transparency and openness concerning decision-making and resource allocation so that there is no question about how we operate. We’re going to end preferential treatment and make sure that all cases are handled the same regardless of the characteristics of the defendant or victim. And, to combat the sweetheart settlements we’ve seen with property tax lawyers like Ed Burke, I am refusing campaign contributions from property tax lawyers, both now and in the future.

What would you do to shorten the delay between charge and trial for defendants in Cook County Jail?

One of the first things I will do as State’s Attorney is conduct a full review of the office’s budgets. Once we know how our money is being spent, we can reallocate resources more effectively, and that includes streamlining the prosecution pipeline.

The civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office collects judgments that return to taxpayers three times more money than the budget of the office. The Cook County state’s attorney’s civil division recovers far less money. Why is that? What would you do about it?

In her first year alone, our current State’s Attorney approved nearly $80 million in property tax appeals, millions of which went to clients of her donors and allies. That money doesn’t just come out of nowhere – it’s drained from local governments. When she approved nearly $2 million in refunds to Ed Burke’s client, more than half came out of the budget for Barrington schools. I am open to evaluating the finances of our civil division, but first we need to stop funneling taxpayer dollars to the politically connected.

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.

Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s work standing up for America’s working families helped inspire our country’s populist movement. He defended and defined our constitutional rights, and while it could not have been easy taking on entrenched powers, Darrow’s commitment to justice helped build a fairer legal system for generations to follow.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

The Wire. It was the first of its kind to accurately portray the interconnectedness of the problems facing a major metropolitan city like Baltimore. Also Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and Wendell Pierce. Enough said.