Dirty Waters: Confessions Of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss

Hardcover | October 31, 2016

byR. J. Nelson

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In 1987, the city of Chicago hired a former radical college chaplain to clean up rampant corruption on the waterfront. R. J. Nelson thought he was used to the darker side of the law—he had been followed by federal agents and wiretapped due to his antiwar stances in the sixties—but nothing could prepare him for the wretched bog that constituted the world of a Harbor Boss.

Director of Harbors and Marine Services was a position so mired in corruption that its previous four directors ended up in federal prison. Nelson inherited angry constituents, prying journalists, shell-shocked employees, and a tobacco-stained office still bearing a busted door that had been smashed in by the FBI. Undeterred, Nelson made it his personal mission to become a “pneumacrat,” a public servant who, for the common good, always follows the spirit—if not always the letter—of the law.

Dirty Waters is a wry, no-holds-barred memoir of Nelson’s time controlling some of the city’s most beautiful spots while facing some of its ugliest traditions. A guide like no other, Nelson takes us through Chicago’s beloved “blue spaces” and deep into the city’s political morass. He reveals the different moralities underlining three mayoral administrations, from Harold Washington to Richard M. Daley, and navigates us through the gritty mechanisms of the Chicago machine. He also deciphers the sometimes insular world of boaters and their fraught relationship with their land-based neighbors.

Ultimately, Dirty Waters is a tale of morality, of what it takes to be a force for good in the world and what struggles come from trying to stay ethically afloat in a sea of corruption. 

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In 1987, the city of Chicago hired a former radical college chaplain to clean up rampant corruption on the waterfront. R. J. Nelson thought he was used to the darker side of the law—he had been followed by federal agents and wiretapped due to his antiwar stances in the sixties—but nothing could prepare him for the wretched bog that con...

R. J. Nelson is a former Superintendent of Special Services and Director of Harbors and Marine Services for the Chicago Park District, positions he held from 1987 to 1994. He is also the retired CEO of the Hammond Indiana Port Authority. His other positions included vice president of Grebe Shipyard in Chicago, administrator at the Univ...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:October 31, 2016Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022633449X

ISBN - 13:9780226334493

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments

Dawn City
Harbors as Neighborhoods
Harbor Rats
A Boat Slip and Fall
Feet Wet
Harold
Rainbows and Riots
Indictments
April Fools
Harbor Fire
Sand Traps
Wulky
Moving on Up
Fog Bowl
D-Day
Batman
Paul McCartney
Golf Dome from Hell
MBE/WBE
“Lakefront’s Small Wonder”
A Coast Guard Station Restored
A Reporter Falls Overboard
Tagline Contest
Daley’s Underground River
A Tale of Two Conventions
From Malcolm X to Mohammed Ali
So Sad, Too Bad
Glatt
Afterglow
Filan Report
Basement Dreams

Afterword
Notes

Editorial Reviews

“A joy to read. Nelson’s achievements are undeniable, detailed with good if rough humor. He declared war on the age-old system of gratuities and outright bribes that had maintained the Harbor’s operations in harmony with the citywide culture of ‘where’s mine?’ The results of this campaign are recounted in a feisty, highly entertaining fashion.”