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Jimmy Tayoun, a Philadelphia pol and character, dead at 87

James "Jimmy" Tayoun had been a sportswriter, a restaurateur, an elected official, a federal prison inmate and a newspaper publisher. He died Wednesday morning, apparently of a heart attack outside his South Philly home.

Jimmy Tayoun  back home in Philadelphia in 1994 after serving prison time.
Jimmy Tayoun back home in Philadelphia in 1994 after serving prison time.Read moreSUSAN WINTERS / File Photograph

James "Jimmy" Tayoun Sr. was the kind of character an author would have needed to dream up to write about Philadelphia if he didn't already exist in a city replete with colorful personalities.

Mr. Tayoun, 87, who died Wednesday morning, had been a sportswriter, restaurateur, city councilman, state representative, federal prison inmate, and newspaper publisher.

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said Mr. Tayoun suffered what appeared to be a heart attack while getting into his car in front of his house on South Broad Street.

"He just dropped over," Brady said.

It was a sudden end for a man who never seemed lacking in energy, who bounded from one political event to another, cracking jokes and herding candidates into groups for the many pictures he took for his newspaper, the Public Record.

That paper's website announced Mr. Tayoun's death, extending "our deepest condolences to the Tayoun family and to everyone whose life was positively impacted by Jimmy."

Mr. Tayoun spent the first 19 years of his career in the newspaper business, including a turn as a sportswriter for the Daily News and for military publications while he served in Korea.

He and his brother Ed, who died in 2013, also ran the Middle East restaurant in South Philadelphia and then Old City from 1958 to 1996.

Mr. Tayoun, who graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism, was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1969 and then served as a member of Philadelphia City Council.

In 1991, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice, acknowledging that he had paid bribes before taking office and accepted bribes after winning election to Council. A federal judge sentenced him to 40 months in prison.

Even behind bars, Mr. Tayoun seemed in charge. He served as the kitchen manager at the federal minimum-security prison in Minersville, Pa., and wrote an advice book — Going to Prison? — a remarkably frank and practical guide to what for many is the most traumatic experience in their lives.

Mr. Tayoun was being interviewed during his prison term by a reporter when a well-dressed couple drove up to the facility in a sleek sports car. Mr. Tayoun interrupted the interview to bellow, "Leave the coat!" to the clearly shaken man, who was walking to the front door wearing an expensive top coat.

"He's surrendering," Mr. Tayoun said of the man. "He'll never see that coat again."

Moments later, a corrections supervisor approached Mr. Tayoun, explaining that the man surrendering was having a difficult time adjusting to his circumstances.  Could Mr. Tayoun speak to him? Mr. Tayoun said it was no problem.

He dispensed that sort of calm counsel even after he returned to Philadelphia and launched his newspaper in 1999, a weekly edition stuffed with ads from the politicians he had known for decades.

In 2003, Mr. Tayoun arrived to a news conference that Mayor John F. Street had called at his reelection campaign headquarters to address the revelation that the FBI had planted a bug in the mayor's City Hall office. Walking into the room, packed with reporters, Mr. Tayoun wrapped an arm around Street and advised him: "Be nice. Smile. Only say what you know."

In 2016, Mr. Tayoun sold his newspaper to City & State, a New York-based media company that was expanding operations to Philadelphia. He remained involved in the publication.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke tweeted: "One of a kind. Philly will never forget you, Jimmy."

In a statement, Clarke said Mr. Tayoun "represented an era of politics that is probably best left in the past," recalling a time when Council's chambers were better known for rough scuffles than deliberation.

"A long, lively chapter in Philadelphia politics has come to a close," Clarke said. "Jimmy Tayoun was sharp, occasionally bruising, definitely flawed, and never boring."

A grandson of Mr. Tayoun, David Tayoun Truscello, also announced the death on his Facebook page:  "It is with a heavy heart that I say, we lost my grandfather, Jim Tayoun, this morning. He was many things in his life … politician, restaurateur, journalist … but to me, he was always Gido (Lebanese for grandpop). While he was far from perfect, he always made an effort to help others."

The Public Record said Mr. Tayoun's family had requested that donations be made to St. Maron's Maronite Catholic Church, 1013 Ellsworth St., Philadelphia 19147.

Truscello's post said viewings for Mr. Tayoun were scheduled for St. Maron's from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3,  and 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 4,  with a Funeral Mass to follow at 10:30 Saturday.