But the documentary also builds the case that for all the good Heyman did, Americas first gay mayor did not deal with the most critical issue the small island faced during his tenure: the new AIDS crisis.
The film asserts that Heyman kept his silence even though his longtime partner, artist John Kiraly, had been one of the first eight people in Key West diagnosed with AIDS in 1983, months before he became mayor. It was a time when such news was usually a death sentence, with no known cause, treatment or cure.
The documentary shows a doctored picture of Heymans face in a campaign ad that ran in the Key West Citizen the day before the election. Marks were added to the pictures face to make it look like Heyman had Kaposis sarcoma.
KS is a cancer that at the time was one of the first indications a person had AIDS, Mikytuck said. They were trying to stigmatize him, and maybe that is why he stayed silent about AIDS because of what he suffered through the campaign.
And while Key West was one of the most tolerant cities in the country, nurse Joan Higgs said in the documentary that there still were some people in the community that thought God hated f------ and that death was the just punishment for homosexuality.
The documentary also implied that Heyman did not bring up the AIDS crisis at City Commission meetings because of economics.
Richards first love was this community, said Heymans friend Wesley Calvin, a homeopath. And the gay community didnt want to hear it. They were concerned it would scare away a lot of tourists if HIV and AIDS was advertised or talked about, or condoms were pushed upon people.
Mikytuck said his friends joked the story was like Jaws the resort town that has a killer shark, but nobody in the town wants it known they have a killer shark.
Wesley says in the documentary that Heyman had wanted to do something about AIDS, but couldnt do anything as a single political person because he had no support.
One review of the documentary in the Birmingham (Ala.) Weekly said: If [Heyman] had helped to shine a light on the AIDS epidemic, fewer people might have died.
Keith, who helped Mikytuck put the documentary together by providing four albums of archival information and rare video footage of Heyman, said she was disappointed in the direction of the final product.
I kind of walked away from it thinking the portrayal of the mayor was some sort of guy partying and having a great time while people were dying all over the place, she said. It really wasnt like that. It was a really bad time. It was horrible. And AIDS was mysterious in 1983. It was just taking shape and not understood.
There was no organized hush-up, she said. John made it sound like there was a sinister PR arrangement, which there wasnt. I wish we had known more. We were terrified. Gay men were wondering if they were next. If they were going to be dead by Christmas.
Keith said Heyman did not turn his back on the crisis but did what he could to help which included contributing a lot of money out of his own pocket to a new organization, AIDS Help.
After he decided not to seek reelection in 1989, Keith said, Heyman planned to make helping people with AIDS his lifes work. But of course, he became ill, she said.
Heyman, 59, died Sept. 16, 1994, with Kiraly at his bedside.
At the documentarys end, it states that more than 1,000 gay men from Key West, almost 50 percent of the population living there in 1983, have died from AIDS. The long list from the Key West AIDS Memorial is slowly displayed in white type on a black background.
Keith said those numbers are misrepresentative of the situation in Key West. If you lived in Michigan and visited Key West once, or you had a sister here or a friend here you could have your name on that list, she said.
She thought the documentary did not focus enough on Heymans positive legacy that he was a strong role model to the gay community across the country at a time when many stayed in the closet in fear.
Right now, Im working for a gay police chief in Key West, Keith said. When I interviewed with him, I said I believe you are in this position in part for what Richard did back in the 80s.