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Top Lightfoot Aide Who Led Heavily Promoted Anti-Violence Efforts Gone From City Job

Tamara Mahal's departure comes months after the BGA reported the city overhyped the initiative and she had made false claims about her career accomplishments.

Tamara Mahal, leader of Chicago's Community Safety Coordination Center, talks with attendees at a community event at Kennedy-King College on the South Side in June.
Olivia Obineme/BGA

This story was produced by the Better Government Association, a nonprofit news organization based in Chicago.

CHICAGO — The leader of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s signature anti-violence initiative no longer works for the city, records show.

Tamara Mahal, who had led the fledgling Community Safety Coordination Center, left her post as senior adviser to Lightfoot as of Oct. 20, according to a city document obtained through an open records request.

Her exit came 2 1/2 months after a Better Government Association report showed that the city’s optimistic rhetoric about the new initiative outweighed the substance of its work and Mahal had made false statements about her past accomplishments.

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City spokespeople have declined to give the BGA information about her departure or who will lead the anti-violence effort. Rumors of her exit have spread since mid-September but city spokespeople have repeatedly not answered basic questions about Mahal’s departure.

That silence continued even after Oct. 17, when Dr. Allison Arwady, whose public health department is heavily involved with the city’s anti-violence programs, told aldermen at a public hearing the initiative was now being led by Greg Martinez, not Mahal. Arwady said the mayor’s office was continuing to consider who would lead the effort going forward.

Mahal could not be reached for comment.

The Lightfoot administration has promoted the center as addressing “decades of disinvestment and systemic racism at the root of” violence. But the BGA found the initiative was largely based on marketing and focused on projects such as promoting walking trails, supporting block club events and pressing other city agencies to fulfill their responsibilities to plant trees, clean up vacant lots and be more responsive to 311 complaints.

Researchers said those activities are worthy but unlikely to address the deeper conditions that drive violence in the same neighborhoods year after year.

Mahal’s departure caps a fast rise from airport emergency manager to top Lightfoot aide in a span of five years. Before Lightfoot put her in charge of the anti-violence effort, Mahal ran another key program — the city’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

She made repeated false statements that made the vaccine rollout sound more successful than it was. For example, both Mahal and Lightfoot said Chicago had the most equitable vaccine distribution in the country among big cities. That claim is refuted by at least one scientific study and data kept by other cities and counties.

When confronted by BGA reporters this summer, Mahal conceded she might have made inaccurate statements as she repeated what colleagues told her.