Congressional candidate Dylan Conley held a media roundtable last Thursday, during which he said he felt “compelled to run” in the race and addressed what a post-pandemic Rhode Island should look like.
Conley offered brief opening remarks before opening the Zoom call to questions, beginning with a brief explanation for his decision to launch a Democratic primary challenge to Jim Langevin. Conley used an example of recent social unrest in Providence that provoked his thinking on how to actually affect change.
“There were rumors there were riots headed to my house, so I slept in the front room because my son’s window is closer to the street than my bedroom, and you lie awake and think, ‘What can I do?’” Conley said. “And you feel ridiculous that the only thing you’re doing is sleeping in the front room.”
He then attended both Black Lives Matter and Gen Z protests in Providence, which only energized his passion to seek office for the first time in his career.
“I saw one of if not the largest gatherings of public protest in Rhode Island history and saw the energy of the people. It was a moment of recognition for me where I saw that we had the capacity to accomplish change in a way that I never thought I would see,” Conley said.
He also cited health care, poverty and systemic racism for inspiring his decision, and said the coronavirus pandemic has not helped the state or country work toward equity for all.
“The status quo is literally killing people,” Conley, the assistant town solicitor in Johnston, said. “From my perspective, true freedom is only borne from true equity, and true equity means that if on the day we’re born we can predict our health and wealth based on our ZIP code, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality … that’s an indicator that we’re not truly free. That we don’t really have equal opportunity, and fundamentally all these problems are because of how we have arranged our economy.”
Conley levied a few shots at Langevin during the call, saying that the most significant difference between the two is that Conley wants to lead and not “toe the party line.” He assailed Langevin’s legislative record – “He’s been in office 20 years, I think he’s passed six bills” – and disagreed with the congressman’s views on climate change and choice.
Conley said Rhode Island needs a more aggressive economic approach in the future as the state and its businesses grapple with the pandemic far beyond 2020.
“He has a tradition of being indistinguishable,” Conley said of Langevin. “When I talk to constituents, they have a hard time getting down what’s he done when he’s been in office, and those sorts of things aren’t good enough for Rhode Island because all these economic downturns, we have an economy that’s particularly vulnerable because we don’t have a superstar city, we don’t have mega corporations.”
He added: “Rhode Island is a small business-driven economy, so flowing from the traditional approach of top-down financial bailouts and economic downturn, then just waiting, to a ground-up, gush-up approach so that small businesses and working-class families have access to the cash first is imperative.”
In response to a question regarding the state’s recovery efforts outside of the economy, Conley said child care needs to be overhauled. He said that universal daycare and pre-K are essential programs because they provide “families a sense of stability.”
“Daycare in particular can close the gap in the summertime, which a lot of students fall between the cracks and how their learning drops off in the summer and it takes them a while to recover,” Conley said. “If we had universal daycare programs in place, we could sustain their learning and kind of improve that, which is also important because we need to have the ability to retrain and transition because a lot of the world won’t be the same again.”
Conley also supports an “immediate transition for an option to enroll” in Medicare for All, as well as federal help in stabilizing state and local budgets. He said federalizing health care expenses would be one path that provides substantial financial assistance.
He also advocated monthly stimulus checks as the crisis continues, saying that just one payment being deposited into a recipient’s savings is effectively serving the opposite purpose. He said sending checks out on a more regular basis would ensure Rhode Islanders, and Americans on a grander scale, are actually spending to stimulate business.
“You don’t know if you’re going to have your job in three months, you don’t know if the economy is going to be OK in six months, so you need to hold on to that cash,” Conley said. “When you save cash, it’s not stimulus. A monthly, predictable check until the pandemic economy stabilizes is crucial in order to actually have people actually spending money in their local economy, so I think that’s absolutely critical.”
Conley pointed to police reform during the conversation, backing the elimination of qualified immunity and urging the federal government to “finance that shift to actually have local governments providing services the community needs outside of the use of just the police department.”
“The biggest thing you can do at a national level is always funding, and you can change and attach funding,” Conley said. “Police have to respond to all these sorts of calls for something like homelessness and if you address homelessness on a federal level – which is something the federal government is very capable of – you expand police budgets and you allow police to start to focus on different areas. You can start to shift what is provided to the community based on what the community actually needs. I think that’s critical.”
At one point in the conversation, Conley was asked why he should be taken seriously as a candidate. Langevin has not faed a primary challenge since 2016, and he defeated his most recent Republican opponent, Salvatore Caiozzo, by more than 27 points in 2018.
Republican Michael J. Riley’s bid in 2012, which ended with Langevin holding his seat by 23 points, was the closest anyone has gotten to claiming the seat.
Conley said the upcoming election is a “once-in-a-century-change election,” and said the amount of folks that come out to vote in the primary and who need convincing is “relatively small.” He acknowledged, though, that there would need to be a “hockey-stick jump” in name recognition and policy discussion before the Sept. 8 primary.
“It’s a small number of people that we need to convince and they already believe that they need change,” Conley said. “Everyone needs change. Everyone has looked at how their life is like and they’ve considered what about being pandemic changes how they interact with other people. It changes their job, changes their future, we don’t know how long this will last. They’re looking for leadership and they’re looking for fresh voices. We’ve seen these insurgencies be successful across the country right now.”
Conley – who also serves as the chairman of the Board of Licenses in Providence and assistant solicitor in East Providence – said that his campaign has reached out to Langevin to set up debates and plans to have updates soon.
“The campaign’s very young,” Conley said. “This wasn’t something that I started 18 months ago, so if you compare it other campaigns, where they are a month into their campaign, I think they’re doing very well … We deserve a debate about how we got here, and it’s just a time for us to kind of take the next step as a society, and I’m literally the only option on the ballot to do that at a federal level. It’s a very important moment.”