Deputy mayor for public safety leaving Lightfoot administration after one year

John O’Malley, leaving after just a year on the job, is expected to be replaced by Elena Gottreich, deputy director of prosecutorial strategies for the Chicago Police Department.

SHARE Deputy mayor for public safety leaving Lightfoot administration after one year
Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

Chicago City Hall.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For the fourth time in three years, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is changing deputy mayors for public safety in the middle of a violent crime wave.

John O’Malley, who served with Lightfoot on the Chicago Police Board, is leaving City Hall after just one year on the job — even as the mayor enters a re-election campaign certain to be dominated by public safety concerns.

O’Malley is expected to be replaced by Elena Gottreich, deputy director of prosecutorial strategies for the Chicago Police Department.

O’Malley joins Norm Kerr and Susan Lee as permanent or acting deputy mayors for public safety who didn’t last long under Lightfoot.

Lee resigned in October 2020, days after delivering a report outlining City Hall’s strategy to tamp down runaway violence.

A California native, she was hired to shift Chicago away from a “law-enforcement-driven solution” to gang violence but had drawn sharp criticism from alderpersons who wanted Lightfoot to fire her.

Lee was followed by Kerr, former director of the anti-violence group once known as CeaseFire. Kerr had been hired in 2019 to work under Lee as director of violence reduction in the city’s Office of Public Safety.

He stood in for his former boss — without being given the official title — until O’Malley was appointed in May 2021.

Kerr abruptly resigned a few months later. 

O’Malley was a former chief deputy U.S. marshal who served as director of corporate security for William Blair & Company. He served on the Chicago Police Board during Lightfoot’s tenure as board president.

His appointment as deputy mayor drew opposition from civil rights attorney Sheila Bedi, who noted on Twitter that O’Malley had voted against firing one of the Chicago police officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Four cops were fired for their role in the alleged cover-up. O’Malley was the only dissenter in an 8-1 decision to fire Officer Daphne Sebastian.

O’Malley could not be reached for comment, and the mayor’s office had no comment.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, was shocked that the revolving door in the Office of Public Safety was spinning yet again.

“Being deputy mayor for public safety is a tough job and a lot of responsibility,” Taliaferro said. “It’s hard to gauge whether he did a great job. He was there for such a short period of time.”

“We are still dealing with a city struggling with violent crime. I know he put his heart into the work he’s done — I know we’ll probably see some results from it somewhere down the line.”

In late January, Gottreich and O’Malley testified before Taliaferro’s committee on Lightfoot’s revised plan to empower the city to seize what the mayor has called the ill-gotten “blood money” of Chicago’s most violent street gangs.

Both argued that day that the mayor’s ordinance — which remains stalled — had been softened to make it more “strategic and empathetic” and less “aggressive.”

They highlighted how Lightfoot has sharpened the language to target gang leaders and their organizations, not rank-and-file members, amid concerns innocent relatives could get caught up in the web of seizures. Those facing loss of property also would have to be notified by mail of the case filed against them and empowered to protect their property from seizure by convincing a judge they were in the dark.

The ordinance ultimately made it through committee on a 10-4 vote, only to have Taliaferro preemptively defer it on the council floor to stave off defeat or prevent progressive council members from doing the same.

Lightfoot vowed to take the additional time to “educate” alderpersons who “didn’t attend briefings and weren’t sure exactly” what was in the revised ordinance, so they can “make an informed decision.” But she hasn’t pushed for a vote since then.

Progressive council members have branded the ordinance an “‘80s-based strategy” being used to fight today’s problems and predicted it will cost the city more in money and employee hours than it can possibly gain in return.

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