James “Jimmy” Tayoun, a larger-than-life figure in Philadelphia for decades thanks to incarnations as a City Councilman, state Rep., restaurateur and newspaper publisher, died Wednesday morning.
According to his daughter, Nora, Mr. Tayoun, who founded and was executive editor of City & State PA sister publication The Public Record, collapsed as he was getting into a car outside his South Philadelphia home. Attempts to revive him by EMTs were unsuccessful.
Mr. Tayoun was born March 27, 1930, in Philadelphia, to Lebanese immigrants. He attended Southeast Catholic High School, where, he recalled in an interview, “being caught up in the middle of gang fights between the Irish kids and the Italian kids.” He graduated from Temple University and worked for a number of newspapers in the region, including the Pottstown Mercury and the Kensington Guide.
During the Korean War, Mr. Tayoun wrote for division newspapers and was published in Stars and Stripes. He continued his military journalism career with Army Times after the war.
In the 1960s, he began his career as a restaurateur, joining his brother Edmond in running Middle East, the family’s restaurant in South Philadelphia. Eventually, Mr. Tayoun took a flyer on the then-sketchy and undesirable neighborhood of Old City and turned a former industrial building on Chestnut Street into a multi-level enterprise featuring a restaurant famous for its belly dancers, a catering facility and a comedy club.
It was through his dealings with the city’s regulatory structure for the restaurant that he realized he wanted to enter the political arena. In addition to representing the state’s 183rd Legislative District and Philadelphia’s 1st District, Mr. Tayoun served as leader of the city’s 1st Ward for 21 years.
His political career ended in 1991, when he was convicted on federal charges of mail fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice. “They threatened to include other members of my family unless I pled guilty to a host of charges,” he recalled in an interview. “It was the best route, I thought at the time.”
Not one to miss an opportunity, he turned his experience behind bars into an advice book for others going into the penal system, “Going to Prison?”
In 1999, Mr. Tayoun again reinvented himself, this time as the founder, publisher and editor of the Philadelphia Public Record, a weekly newspaper focused on Philadelphia’s political world. In a statement on Mr. Tayoun’s passing, City Council President Darrell Clarke acknowledged the influence of both Mr. Tayoun and the Public Record, stating “Jimmy was no fool. If you screwed up, he let you know it – often with a bullhorn by way of the Public Record. But if you did something good, especially something that helped people who really needed help, he would compliment you just about every time you saw him.”
Mr. Tayoun leaves behind his wife, Dolores, six children and 15 grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Saint Maron’s Church at 1013 Ellsworth Street, Philadelphia. Viewings will be Friday, Nov. 3, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 4, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Saint Maron’s. The liturgy will take place Saturday, Nov. 4 at 10:30 a.m.