Democratic candidate Ken Keechl made history when he was the first openly gay person elected to the Broward County Commission in 2006. But the FSU law graduate, elevated to the position of county mayor in 2010, stumbled in his re-election bid. In a close race, and a very bad political year for Democrats, he was defeated by Republican Chip LaMarca.
While beaten by the numbers, Keechl’s determination and resolve has led him to make a second try to get the seat back, for a job he calls "the best in the world." He realizes the battle ahead. A similar attempt to gain back a commission seat was thwarted in 2012 when he finished second in a three way primary race. He and Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom split the same vote, opening the door for incumbent Tim Ryan.
This year, Keechl has beaten back a fellow gay activist, Ben Lap, with a decisive 71 percent primary win. He is now poised to again challenge LaMarca , the man who took his seat away four years ago. Day after day, and night after night, Keechl hits the campaign trail.
It's a grind, even for a native Floridian who put himself through FSU with Pell Grants, off campus jobs and scholarships. Staying in Tallahassee after his college graduation, he went on to earn his law degree at FSU as well, in 1987.
Ted Adcock, his partner of 26 years, acknowledges that Keechl "is never home." There is little time for the summer home in Melbourne or rest while running.
Keechl wants his job back.
"Yes, I enjoyed the work, but we achieved many good things that need to be continued today. As mayor, I guided through the Broward County Commission, a complete rewrite of Broward's Ethics Ordinance to stop lobbyists and business interests from giving gifts to Commissioners and County staff. It was the right thing to do. "
In a 2010 interview, Keechl remarked about his experience: "I ran for office as a fiscal conservative and as someone concerned about the environment, but I am aware of the historic nature of becoming a gay mayor and I am proud of it.”
The generosity of Keechl and his husband, Adcock, have underwritten and supported a score of LGBT non-profits, from the Pride Center to HIV programs.
Leaders of the gay community would like to see Keechl ascend to office again. But his campaign reaches beyond LGBT issues. As an environmental advocate, he wants to protect beach re-nourishment funding sources and defend the protection of Broward's dwindling green spaces. He also asserts that he has been a consumer watchdog, voting against wasteful government spending.
Keechl is also hitting talking points about Broward's future. He says the commission has failed on public transportation.
"Finding a dedicating source of funds for long-term transportation needs is critical," Keechl has said. "Broward County is too auto-centric."
Despite his aspirations, Keechl has been in a few battles himself, once accused of overly favoring the bail bond industry. Keechl challenges the criticism, by pointing to his advocacy on the Public Safety Coordinating Council, working to put caps on jail overcrowding.
"You can't please everyone," Keechl states, "but you can stand up for the right things."
Keechl is finding enormous support in the LGBT community, with fundraisers sponsored by George Castrataro and events attended by Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Dean Trantalis. Still, the downtown business, real estate and financial district, which comprises the epicenter of Keechl's uphill campaign, is one of the few areas of Broward County which remains a Republican stronghold.
Opponents have challenged Keechl as a candidate "whose time has come and gone." In two weeks, with a strong LGBT showing, Keechl hopes to prove them wrong. The demographics of the district are different now than 2010. The outcome could still be a big surprise. Both candidates are fighting vigorously for the job.
LaMarca said he should be re-elected because he has put residents' needs first, "always advocating for the best interests of district. I show up, and I work hard for them every day.”
Keechl said he should be elected again because he wants to return to address issues he says haven't been dealt with since his departure. He said he has a track record of building consensus, one the "community and commission needs."
Keechl has won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and the PBA. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors Association has backed LaMarca. Money wise, incumbency has its virtues. While Keechl has raised just under $100,000, La Marca's last campaign report reveals he has over $400,000.
"It's going to be a close race, " Keechl acknowledges. The one time president of the Dolphin Democrats is encouraging supporters to get to the polls on November 4.
" I know that every vote counts."
Few people can say that with as much experience.