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Film about Richard Heyman, Key West’s first openly gay mayor, premieres Wednesday

The Newcomer, a documentary about Richard Heyman, Key West’s first openly gay mayor, premieres Wednesday at Key West’s Tropic Cinema. It runs through Feb. 26.

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Here’s Heyman’s Miami Herald obituary, which ran Sept. 17, 1994:



kiraly heymanFormer Key West Mayor Richard A. Heyman, one of the nation's first openly gay politicians whose 1983 election victory fueled early debate on gays in mainstream society, died Friday. He was 59.

His long battle with AIDS ended gently at 4 a.m. in his elegant Key West home. With him was artist John Kiraly, 51, his partner of 22 years. "He died in my arms, " Kiraly said.

Friends and family said the successful art dealer faced the ravages of AIDS with the same courage and humor he exhibited in the Byzantine world of Key West politics and when coping with the torrent of attention that followed his unprecedented political triumph.

"He maintained this marvelous balance, " said June Keith, Heyman's assistant in the mayor's office and close friend. Keith, now a columnist for The Herald's Keys edition, recalled a recent meal with Heyman at Pepe's, a popular island restaurant. "I looked across at him and started to cry. I said, 'I love you so much and you're going to die.' And he said, 'Well, how do you think I feel?' " And they laughed.

Heyman was a reluctant symbol in the struggle for sexual equality. His only cause, he said, was Key West politics.

"I didn't run as a gay man; I ran as a man who felt he could do things to change our city, " Heyman said in a Sept. 10 interview. Oxygen at his bedside, he was reflecting on his life, weak from his third bout with pneumonia.

Being mayor of Key West, he said, was the peak. "That's when I felt like I was doing the most, accomplishing the most, " including "breaking down the barrier of an openly gay man being elected mayor of a major city."

Kiraly, whose acrylic paintings of exotic island scenes are recognized around the world, said Heyman's greatest contributions came simply as a human being.

"We never felt the need to march in parades and do all that stuff, " Kiraly said. "We both learned the importance of one thing, the most important thing, and that is love. He taught me and so many people around him so much just by the way he conducted his life."

Heyman's victory signaled a new political era on the island. Articulate and savvy, Heyman ran for mayor after a frustrating four-year term on the Key West City Commission. His efforts at political reform had largely been blocked by a powerful network of native-born Conchs who for generations had controlled the island through patronage, cronyism and, occasionally, outright corruption. Detractors and fans alike joked that in Key West, The Star Spangled Banner would be replaced with God Save the Queen.

In late 1983, the new mayor was whisked away under police protection after receiving a death threat investigated by the FBI. As a mayor intent on political reform, Heyman pushed for construction of a sewage treatment plant to end the city's illegal dumping of raw human waste into the ocean, backed a new city charter, called for audits of poorly run city departments, demanded the hiring of more women and minorities, and got laws passed that lowered density and building heights.

Sick with shingles, a painful viral infection, and accused by some of setting up his own "Bubba System" through political appointments, Heyman didn't run for re-election in 1985. But two years later, he returned and was elected mayor for a final two-year term, beating five-time mayor and Key West native Charles "Sonny" McCoy.

Heyman "represented an awful lot of people here and they respected him, " McCoy said. "I'm not just talking about the gays. His constituents were more than just that."

Heyman quietly retired from politics, unbeaten at the polls, in 1989. The youngest of four children, Heyman grew up on a grain farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio. The 6-4 basketball star was valedictorian of his high school class and went to Ohio State University on a basketball and scholastic scholarship. He once sang on the Ed Sullivan Show as a member of the Ohio State Glee Club.

Heyman made his way to South Florida in the early 1970s to nurse a sick aunt. He invested wisely in property in Coconut Grove and moved to Key West in 1973, opening the island's second art gallery, Gingerbread Square Gallery, on Duval Street.

In addition to Kiraly, Heyman is survived by sister Glenda Heyman of Grand Rapids, Ohio; niece Marsha Heber of Swanton, Ohio; nephews Robin Marlow of Walton, Ind., and Randy Marlow of Grand Rapids, Ohio; and numerous great nieces and great nephews.

In lieu of flowers, Kiraly suggests donations to AIDS Help in Key West or Hospice of the Florida Keys. A memorial service will be private.

Caption: In this 1999 file photo, John Kiraly works on a panel featuring his late partner, Richard Heyman for the AIDS quilt. JUNE KEITH


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