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Dirty Waters in the Chicago Reader

Corruption might be just as Chicagoan as Mike Ditka’s chain of steakhouses (“We heard that the pork chops were the best in Chicago—not true. Overpriced for an adequate meal.”—Menupages)—the premise didn’t quite originate here, but the vibe is omnipresent, and its consequences are more or less our mise-en-scène. In Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor BossR. J. Nelson tells the tale of his rise and fall as the city’s last director of Harbors and Marine Services. A recent profile of Nelson at the Chicago Tribune delved into some juicy tidbits, which follow below. You can read the piece in full, here, too.


Nelson recalled numerous, colorful bribery attempts — with boaters hoping to take advantage of the old way of doing things at Chicago’s harbors.

One boater who wanted a slip in Belmont Harbor showed Nelson a glossy brochure with pictures of a penthouse condominium in Acapulco — saying Nelson could use it for a couple of weeks in exchange for his help. When Nelson responded “Absolutely not,” the boater added. “It’s fully equipped and includes a companion — gender of your choice!”

Other boaters attempted leaving hundred-dollar bills on the counter, gift certificates to Marshall Field’s or sending boxes of Fannie May candy with money between layers of chocolates. There also was a boat slip application with a check for the fee plus ten new twenty-dollar bills. When Nelson tried to summon back the boater to explain, his teenage son came instead, saying his dad had given him cash to run errands and the money was put in the wrong envelope.

Another boater, with spray-painted fake hair on his scalp, asked Nelson repeatedly what he had to do to get a boat slip. To make things clear, the boater put his left hand, holding a wad of bills, on Nelson’s desk. Nelson told the boater he could get Nelson the Nobel Prize for peace, and to get out of his office.


To read more about Dirty Waters, click here.