In The News


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.

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



Former 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.

 Documentaries make Key West debut Feb. 17


L’Attitudes Correspondent

Posted – Friday, February 12, 2010 11:07 AM EST

On Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., two new documentaries about Key West make their island screen debut at Key West’s Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St.

John Mikytuck’s “The Newcomer” and “Audience with the Queens,” directed by Robbie Hopcraft, will be screened in advance of the two local filmmakers’ discussion with the audience. (An additional one-week run of the films as a single-ticket feature is scheduled to begin on Friday, Feb. 19).

“The Newcomer,” directed by Emmy award-winning journalist, writer and producer John Mikytuck, provides a close look at the dramatic life, political career and legacy of Richard Heyman, who, in 1983 became the first openly gay mayor in America.

Heyman, who aspired to be “a mayor who is gay” rather than “the gay mayor,” arrived in Key West in 1973 and accomplished much during a political career that spanned nearly a decade and included a term as a Key West City Commissioner as well as two terms as mayor.

He is credited as the man who spearheaded the process of making significant changes to the city charter, fought for environmentally sound ways to dispose of human waste and championed increased interest in Key West as a tourist destination.

But, “The Newcomer” asserts, Heyman also revved the engines of development and, during his first mayoral term, remained silent about the fact that AIDS had begun to sink its deadly teeth deep into Key West’s GLBT community.

Ten years after Heyman first took office, Mikytuck’s film claims, half of all gay men living in Key West had died of the disease and an earlier outcry from public officials may have proven helpful in reducing the number of AIDS deaths on the island (Heyman himself succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia in September 1994).

Footage includes interviews with such longtime Keys notables as Peter Ilchuk, June Keith, John Kiraly, Joan Higgs and Dr. Mark Whiteside. “The Newcomer” manages to remain compelling throughout its hour-long run time despite visual material that is, for the most part, static.

The ability to keep an audience engaged is a quality that Tropic Executive Director Matthew Helmerich says is also present in Robbie Hopcraft’s “Audience with the Queens.”

Both films “show how a tiny Florida island has both shocked and captivated the world around it,” he said. “They tell some of the stories that have helped shape our island’s cultural landscape over the last few decades.”

A handful of well-known drag queens who perform regularly at Duval Street’s 801 Cabaret Club (Sushi, Samantha, Gugi, RV, Gassy and the late Destiny among them) star in the 30-minute film that seeks to examine the diverse group’s lives and experiences on stage and off.

The idea for a film about the group first began to take shape back in 2007, when Hopcraft was shooting New Year’s Eve video for television. “I’d never met a drag queen before,” he said.

After building a friendship with Sushi and her family of performers, he realized that “it’s a story of family and relationships – it’s really the story we all live in some ways.” But “Audience with the Queens” has a distinctly promotional feel rather than an intimate one, and its short running time doesn’t allow telling the in-depth story of any character.

“‘Audience’ is the first in a series,” Hopcraft said, “an opening episode that makes people want to know the drag queens better. It’s still evolving, as I continue to film.” Screened at the 2009 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and the 2009 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2009, the film is Hopcraft’s first.

Taken together, “The Newcomer” and “Audience with the Queens” are an oddly successful match, the differences between them giving a perspective to Key West’s recent cultural history that neither director might have expected from his work alone: a fairly accurate picture of how far we’ve been able to come without actually moving an inch.

Tickets for the Feb. 17, 7 p.m. screening cost $12 and are available at the Tropic box office or online at “The Newcomer” and “Audience with the Queens” will also run for one week as a single-ticket feature beginning Friday, Feb. 19; for showtimes, check the website.


Monday, February 15, 2010

 Tropic shows gay-mayor documentary

By MANDY BOLEN Citizen Staff

The legend and implications of Key West’s — and the nation’s — first openly gay mayor will come to life on the big screen this week at the Tropic Cinema.  Filmmaker and former Key West resident John Mikytuck wrote and directed “The Newcomer,” which details the political rise of Richard Heyman and his term in office from 1983 to 1985.  In the film’s trailer, Mikytuck describes Key West as a gay mecca that many remember from the 1980s. But many who would remember the island’s gay heyday no longer are alive to share their stories. “The Newcomer” explores Heyman’s life as a Key West art gallery owner and his response to a growing anti-gay crusade that was sweeping the country. “A group of gay men growing wealthy from gay tourism convinced Heyman to run for the City Commission,” Mikytuck said in the film’s synopsis.

Heyman served four years on the commission and was elected mayor in 1983 — the same year his partner, John Kiraly, and eight other Key West men were diagnosed with a mysterious new disease. “Within 10 years of leaving office, half of all the gay men living in Key West, including Heyman, would be dead,” from complications of AIDS, Mikytuck said.

The 54-minute film has been shown at gay film festivals, and is coming to its Key West home at the Tropic from Wednesday through Feb. 26. It includes archival footage and interviews with friends of Heyman.  Mikytuck will be available for question-and-answer sessions after most screenings.  For more information, go online to thenewcomermovie or keywestfilm.

The 2009 SHOUT out


Posted on May 27th, 2009 in Arts & Culture

By Carey Norris

The fourth annual Birmingham SHOUT, scheduled for May 29-30 atWorkPlay, will showcase features, documentaries and short films by new and established artists and offer attendees the opportunity to view topics of interest to the LGBT communities, as well as to interact with filmmakers and documentary subjects in attendance. Birmingham SHOUT is Alabama’s first and only gay + lesbian film festival and festival organizers are proud to support the growing LGBT community in the Magic City, along with providing compelling content for anyone interested in alternative/independent films.

THE NEWCOMER • Saturday • 11 a.m.

(WorkPlay Theatre) When Richard Heyman, who owned a chain of hair salons, moved to Key West, Fla., in 1973, he didn’t have any dreams of politics, let alone of being the country’s first openly gay mayor, but that’s what happened. Director John Mikytuck’s new documentary The Newcomer gives a fascinating portrait of a complex man who did a lot of good but failed in some vital ways.

After moving to Key West, Heyman opened up an art gallery to represent gay artists. At the time, Key West was a crumbling former navy town. The town had a naturally permissive attitude, and was very open to its gay residents. And under the stewardship of Heyman and other gay business owners, the town became a mecca for gay tourism.

Heyman ran for the city commission in 1979 and won. And in 1983, he was elected mayor, becoming the first openly gay mayor in the United States.

But after being elected, Heyman didn’t want to be knows as the “gay mayor,” thinking it would hinder his ability to get things done. As mayor, Heyman got a revised town charter passed, helped the town’s sewers and trash system, and continued to grow tourism. Though his life partner, John Kiraly, was one of the many men in Key West who were suffering from the mysterious disease known as AIDS, Heyman remained silent about the disease in an effort to protect the tourist trade he had helped grow for Key West.

Heyman did a lot of good for Key West, but he made some sacrifices that he probably shouldn’t have. If he’d helped to shine a light on the AIDS epidemic, fewer people might have died. And Heyman himself died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1994. The Newcomer does a wonderful job showing us the many facets of Heyman’s personality.

Film chronicles first gay mayor in Key West and nation



Sunday, January 11, 2009

By MANDY BOLEN Citizen Staff

Key West made national headlines in 1983 when the island town elected the nation’s first openly gay mayor.Richard Heyman stood for gay rights, gay businesses and the environmental future of the town he loved.

Heyman’s own future was cut short by AIDS in September 1994 — six years after learning he had contracted the deadly virus that eventually killed some of his closest friends.

“It’s one of the most bitter ironies of a political career or oppressed group,” said John Mikytuck, a former Key West resident and HIV educator who is assembling a documentary about Heyman’s first term in office, from 1983 to 1985. “Just as the gay community managed to elect its first gay mayor, it was rapidly becoming afflicted by AIDS.”

Heyman did not learn of his status until his second term as mayor, from 1987 to 1989. But he was familiar with the ravages of the virus, as his partner, artist John Kiraly, was one of the first people in Key West to be told they had AIDS after Dr. Mark Whiteside founded the first clinic in Key West in 1983, Mikytuck said.

The film remains untitled as Mikytuck struggles to capture the struggles and triumphs of Heyman’s first term in just a few catchy words.

“That first term was a period in which Key West went through a major evolution,” Mikytuck said. His film features many people who remain active in the community today. Local writer June Keith was Heyman’s close friend and assistant during his tenure as mayor. Her archives of Heyman’s political career have been instrumental in Mikytuck’s documentary. George Halloran served as a city commissioner with Heyman, as did Chamber of Commerce Vice President Virginia Panico.

Familiar movers and shakers such as Peter Ilchuk, Frank Romano, Joe Liszka and Joe Pais were instrumental in persuading the Ohio native to run, and in getting him elected, Mikytuck said.

Heyman, who operated a chain of hair salons before moving to Key West in the early 1970s, garnered 55 percent of the vote in a bitter race against Richard Kerr, a Conch. ”Richard (Heyman) was a real charismatic figure, and the consummate politician,” Mikytuck said.

During Heyman’s tenure, the City Commission, which then consisted of only four commissioners and a mayor, rewrote the city charter to transfer power from the Civil Service Board and Police and Fire departments back to the elected officials.

Although Kiraly did not support Heyman’s initial decision to enter politics, he supported his partner throughout the entire adventure, Mikytuck said.

The documentary will be just over an hour long, and Mikytuck is hoping it will be accepted for the Frameline Film Festival, which features gay and lesbian films each July in San Francisco. Regardless of its acceptance at Frameline, Mikytuck said he will arrange a Key West screening of the film once it is edited and finalized.  ”No matter what, I will do a screening in Key West,” he said on his way out of the Florida Keys on Friday, after spending the week in Key West filming interviews.

Mikytuck currently lives in New York City and is working on film and journalism projects. He won an Emmy Award last year for his Web show “Reporting AIDS.” Mikytuck is the writer, producer and host of the show, which is carried on