Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss (Chicago Visions and Revisions) (Paperback)

Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss (Chicago Visions and Revisions) By R. J. Nelson Cover Image

Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss (Chicago Visions and Revisions) (Paperback)

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A wry, no-holds-barred memoir of Nelson’s time controlling some of Chicago's most beautiful spots while facing some of its ugliest traditions.

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. Dirty Waters is the 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. Nelson takes us through Chicago's beloved “blue spaces” and deep into the city’s political morass, revealing the different moralities underlining three mayoral administrations and navigating the gritty mechanisms of the city’s political machine. 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. 
 
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 University of Chicago, and chaplain at Cornell University. He lives in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226826929
ISBN-10: 0226826929
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: February 19th, 2023
Pages: 304
Series: Chicago Visions and Revisions
“Is it the water in Lake Michigan that makes Chicago such a politically corrupt city? That might sound like an outlandish theory, but R. J. Nelson’s Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor Boss makes a compelling case. . . . There’s a certain Chicagoness to Nelson’s storytelling that’s highly entertaining—the book reads like a series of anecdotes being told by a lifelong resident of the city.”
— Chicago Reader

“Fascinating.”
— Library Journal

"An entertaining, insightful work on the way things worked in Chicago."


— Choice

Dirty Waters is a revealing insider’s tale of a Harold Washington–era reformer battling for change. It tells the stories behind the headlines of the ‘Last Harbor Boss’ of the Chicago Park District. It is written for those who want to know how government really works and how a former protestor, college chaplain, and college administrator opened up the green space and blue space of Chicago and made a cumbersome bureaucracy work for us. Students, scholars, and citizens will read it avidly and celebrate the often unsung heroes of reform.”
— Dick Simpson, professor of political science at University of Illinois at Chicago and former Chicago alderman

Dirty Waters is an insider’s account of what has become known as the ‘Chicago Way,’ the corruption at the very heart of the city’s political machine. This book is an honest, fascinating, and often startling story of how politics, bribery, and just plain ineptitude often plagued the ‘City that Works.’”
— Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

“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.”
— James T. Fisher, Fordham University