Former state’s attorney candidate says business, union leaders fed up with Lightfoot, urging him to run for mayor — and he’s listening

Bill Conway’s father, William E. Conway Jr., helped found the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, and has a net worth pegged at $3.5 billion in 2020. He donated $10.5 million to his son’s 2020 run for Cook County state’s attorney.

SHARE Former state’s attorney candidate says business, union leaders fed up with Lightfoot, urging him to run for mayor — and he’s listening
Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Bill Conway speaks to reporters after early voting in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St., Monday morning, March 16, 2020.

Bill Conway speaks to reporters after voting early in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the Loop super site, 191 N. Clark St.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bill Conway, the billionaire’s son who finished second in the 2020 Democratic primary for state’s attorney, said Thursday he’s being urged to run for mayor by business and trade union leaders fed up with Lori Lightfoot — and he just might take them up on it.

With a law-and-order pedigree and a father who bankrolled that 2020 campaign against incumbent Kim Foxx, Conway is a somewhat intriguing possibility in the 2023 mayoral race.

His father, William E. Conway Jr., helped found the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, and has a net worth pegged at $3.5 billion in 2020.

If his dad was willing to write a $10.5 million check for his son’s state’s attorney campaign, in which he got 31.5% of the vote, he might be willing to contribute at least as much to a mayoral run.

That would allow the former prosecutor and Naval intelligence officer, who recently returned from a 14-month deployment to Germany, to write his own check while everybody else struggles to raise money.

On Thursday, Conway pointed to the $1.7 million in Lightfoot’s primary political account — even after her best quarter of fundraising — as evidence of the business community’s discontent with the incumbent mayor.

Pressed to identify those urging him to challenge Lightfoot, Conway said: “It’s some of the larger trade unions, folks in the business community, many of whom didn’t support me last time, who’ve kind of called me and said, ‘You’re vindicated. We really need you to run here. Sorry about that.’ And then, some community groups … who thought I made a decent showing and said, ‘Our city needs saving. Please do this.’”

And what, exactly, does the city need saving from?

“Saving from the current trajectory that we’re on — certainly on crime. And that really affects everything else. You can’t really have economic development if you’ve got a crime problem that is as out of control as it is now. Or business growth, job growth or neighborhood growth,” said Conway, who turns 44 on May 8.

Conway said he has “a lot of friends and some family” serving as Chicago police officers. They talk constantly about feeling “unsupported.”

“Over the course of the last four years, we’ve gone from roughly 13,000 police officers to roughly 10,000 today. A lot of that has to do with the mayor’s rhetoric. It’s also due to what seems to be an ever-changing strategy by the police department. You have cancellation of days off. You have district redeployment. Some days, they seem to be in favor of community policing. And some days, they’re going to citywide units,” he said.

Conway said he would start by firing Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown. The former Dallas police chief, Lightfoot’s hand-picked choice, has been a failure by any objective measure, Conway believes.

“If you look at murders, we had a little over 400 a year when Lightfoot came into office. And now, we have 800. Almost twice as much as any other city. And Supt. Brown himself had set a goal of 300 when he took office,” Conway said.

“You have to be able to lead the department … and police officers just don’t think the superintendent has their back.”

Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Bill Conway, joined by his wife Brittany and daughter Bella, greets voters at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen in March 2020.

Cook County state’s attorney candidate Bill Conway, joined by his wife Brittany and daughter Bella, greets voters at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen in March 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Conway said he got a first-hand look at how vindictive Lightfoot can be during his campaign for state’s attorney, when the mayor gave what he called a “milquetoast” endorsement of Foxx.

During a televised debate on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” Conway answered a question about retail theft with a warning about Chicago’s rising homicide rate.

“I said ... ‘If that continues, we’re gonna have 750 murders this year.’ … There were 800 murders, of course, that year. … I was prophetic. I wish I hadn’t been,” Conway recalled.

“Mayor Lightfoot then immediately tweeted out, ‘This man’s prediction of a historically high murder rate is disrespectful to the Chicago Police Department.’ If she’d been focused on the problem instead of what I was saying, maybe we wouldn’t quite be in this position of continuously changing strategies.”

He added: “One of the bizarre transformations that’s happened with her is, she’s gone from prominent litigator at Mayer Brown to swearing at people under her breath at City Council meetings.”

With his name recognition established, Conway said he has the luxury of waiting until after the June 28 primary before deciding whether to enter the mayor’s race.

He also might wait until 2027, running either for mayor or for the 34th Ward City Council seat.

Conway was coy about how much his father might donate, saying only: “My father’s bank account is not mine.”

But he joked he might inadvertently give Lightfoot a new argument to boost her anemic fundraising.

“We’ll see if she uses this to raise money: ‘Billionaire’s kid says he might run.’ It wouldn’t surprise me,” Conway said.

“I’m on her list as a prior volunteer. So I see those desperate pleas.”

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