Almost 30 years ago, Ohio transplant and art gallery owner Richard Heyman won a bitter race against a native son to become mayor of Key West, then a crumbling Navy town trying to reinvent itself as an island paradise for tourists.
Heymans victory made international news. He was Americas first openly gay mayor.
Now, its so what? said writer June Keith, who was Heymans secretary. But believe me, back then it was huge.
Emmy-award winning director John Mikytuck tackles the story of Heyman the fascinating, complex and forgotten gay icon who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in his documentary, The Newcomer. It premieres on broadcast TV at 9 p.m. Monday on WPBT2.
Its a timeless tale, Mikytuck said during a phone interview from his home in Lambertville, N.J. And AIDS is still an issue, too.
The project was quite the undertaking for Mikytuck, a self-taught cameraman and video editor who went to graduate journalism school at Columbia University to hone his story-telling skills.
Mikytuck, who won an Emmy in 2008 for his web TV show Reporting AIDS, did not set out to do a documentary on Heyman. He had planned to tell the story of how the deadly disease affected Key West through his own experience of working for the nonprofit organization AIDS Help while living on the island from 2001-2006.
But while researching, Mikytuck said, he found Heymans life more compelling and representative of the 1980s, a decade when the gay community was making political progress following the national Anita Bryant-led anti-homosexual crusade only to be slammed again with a mysterious, scary disease that was disproportionately killing gay men at an alarming rate.
A first version of the documentary was shown three years ago at gay film festivals in Alabama and Miami. It also ran for a week at the Tropic Cinema in Key West and was shown once at Cornell University, Mikytucks alma mater. He reworked the film for its broadcast premiere.
The documentary portrays the six-foot-four Heyman as a charming, savvy, well-dressed and successful businessman who had been valedictorian of his high school class, went to Ohio State University on basketball and scholastic scholarships, served in the U.S. Army and opened a chain of hair salons named Sir Richards.
After moving to Key West in 1973, he opened Gingerbread Square Gallery on Duval Street. The gay communitys businessmen were revitalizing Key West, and members of its Business Guild saw Heyman as the gregarious person who could lead their efforts in mainstream politics. Heyman was talked into running for public office during a party with cute, thong-wearing servers and plenty of alcohol, his campaign manager Peter Ilchuk said in the documentary.
In 1979, Heyman was elected city commissioner. In 1983, he made history with his mayoral triumph.
A week before his death in 1994, Heyman told The Miami Herald: "I didnt run as a gay man; I ran as a man who felt he could do things to change our city.
Friends say Heyman never liked the label gay mayor. They say he ran to be the leader of all Key Wests residents, with a mission to build a sewer treatment plant, revise the antiquated city charter to better manage development, provide opportunity and pay equality and grow the fledgling tourism industry.