Gaetano Giordano, S. Phila. Vendor, Ex-city Councilman

Posted: August 28, 1996

Gaetano P. ``Tommy'' Giordano, 77, of South Philadelphia, a vendor at the Italian Market and former City Council member, died Monday of a heart attack at Logan Square East, a nursing home.

Mr. Giordano, whose schooling ended after the third or fourth grade at St. Paul's in South Philadelphia, was a colorful figure who made his living by operating a fruit and produce stand across the street from the one operated by his parents at Ninth and Washington Streets.

Why didn't he continue to work in his parents' business as he did after leaving school? ``You had to know my grandfather. He was a very independent person, and he wanted to do things his own way,'' said his grandson, Salvatore Cocivera.

About 1988, he and a son, Gaetano ``Jesse'' Jr., opened ``Captain Jesse G'' at Eighth and Washington, where they sold fruit, produce and seafood, and which the elder Giordano maintained was ``the biggest crab distributor in the city.''

He labored for his success. ``He worked from 5 a.m. to 5 or 6 at night and never took a vacation,'' Cocivera said. His only vacation was a forced one - during the Blizzard of '96.

Mr. Giordano enlisted in the Army in February 1941 and spent the next couple of years at Fort Benning, Ga., as a parachute instructor. He was nearly killed when he was banged against the side of the plane during a jump and his chute failed to open.

His emergency chute saved his life, but he broke both legs and suffered a concussion, said his grandson.

He also survived throat cancer in the 1970s.

``He was a two- or three-pack-a-day smoker, but when the doctor told him he had cancer, he threw them out and never smoked again,'' Cocivera said.

Mr. Giordano got involved in politics as a Democratic committeeman and leader of the Second Ward and served three terms on City Council, from 1956 through 1967.

To his grandson, he confided that he lost his last race after he ``punched out'' the chairman of the Democratic City Committee in an elevator.

Newspaper articles make no mention of such a fight. In any case, they reported that he was defeated in 1967 by Republican Benjamin Curcuruto in a close race (29,077 to 27,681).

In all his races, Mr. Giordano overcame strong opposition, much of it from within his own party. ``He didn't care whose toes he stepped on or who he ticked off,'' his grandson said.

Indeed, one of the people he ticked off was a cousin, Guy Giordano, whose plans to expand his South Philadelphia auto repair shop were threatened by a zoning change proposed by Mr. Giordano. That proposal also angered then-Mayor James Tate, whose personal secretary happened to be the cousin's wife.

Mr. Giordano also figured in one of the more bizarre stories to come out of the city in the 1960s.

The episode began when a policeman led raids on three gambling sites in South Philadelphia. Later, in a newspaper interview, the policeman alleged he had been transferred to the Northeast because he ignored warnings to halt raids of gambling dens he said were ``favored'' by Mr. Giordano, whom he described as a ``South Philadelphia political titan.''

Mr. Giordano denied protecting local gamblers.

``Why should I protect any? There's no need to. They're running wide open in the district,'' he said. ``There's one right across the street from where I live. . . .''

Mr. Giordano then blamed the Republicans for having charges against the gamblers thrown out.

But the story didn't end there. A week after making his accusations against Mr. Giordano, the policeman who conducted the raids was arrested - and sent to jail for three months - for procuring for a prostitute with whom he shared three apartments.

Survivors include his wife, Lillian ``Dolly'' Giordano; sons, Paul and Gaetano ``Jesse'' Jr.; a daughter, Frances ``Angel'' (when she came home from the hospital he ran around saying he had a little angel, and began calling her that); six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A viewing from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. today at St. Paul's Church, 10th and Christian Streets, will be followed by a Funeral Mass. Burial will be SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.

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