Book Review. Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss

Book Review. Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss

Illinois and Chicago are synonymous for Corruption, Graft, Bribes and Pay-offs.  Can you imagine having a theological education and stepping into this quagmire?  Bob Nelson did in 1987 and became the Director of Chicago Harbors.  With eight harbors holding 5,000 boats and oversold, to get a mooring in a harbor resorted to old school Chicago politics before his arrival.

Nelson’s journey shakes all of us with morality to the core.  The favoritisms, the political hack hirings, and doing the right thing is always precocious as being out of step with the powerful Chicago Machine.

At times he names names when the person was convicted, at others you just understand the level of corruption and how deeply rooted it was.

Nelson fought the battle, made great strides at cleaning up a completely run down harbor system and changing it to remove the corruption, graft, bribes and pay-offs into systems that the customer could understand not be resorted to extortion, while improving the quality of services all along Chicago’s lakefront.

What were the results?  He was the first harbor boss that was not charged or convicted, where his four predecessors all went to jail for their illegal activities on the job.


His journey touched home with me, many of the names in the book are friends or acquaintances.  Places were my stomping grounds.   I’d have to write long to list the commonality.  It was a pleasure to see friends Jerry and Kathy Thomas and Peter Kendall mentioned, along with others and his trip to Oak Woods Cemetery where my mother is laid to rest, very close to Mayor Harold Washington’s grave that he describes.

You’ll know the names of the players as well.

Overall, it feels like the Dutch boy who put his finger in the leaky dam.

It’s a good story of how honesty can stop corruption and improve services.  For those of us in Illinois, it gives us a glimmer of hope in a State and City that thrives on harming its citizens relentlessly.

I give it 2 thumbs up as a read.  The book is found online at the regular outlets.

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