Ken Keechl, Broward’s first openly gay county mayor, would have celebrated his 61st birthday Oct. 10. Instead, his loved ones and supporters will celebrate his life.
“It’s a chai (Hebrew for life). It’s a good thing. It’s a mitzvah for him,” said Dolphin Democrats activist Michael Albetta, a close friend of Keechl who is helping organize the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday public remembrance at The Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors.
Keechl, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, died Sept. 1, eight months after his husband Ted Adcock’s death at 69 from kidney disease, and four months after learning he had advanced pancreatic cancer.
“Ken and Ted were together 27 years,” said their close friend, attorney Coleman Prewitt, who shared office space with Keechl since 2015.
“I met Ken in 2008 when I ran for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission. He was on the county commission. And we’ve been friends since,” said Prewitt, who didn’t win his 2009 election bid.
Work days with Keechl usually began this way, he recalled:
“Every morning when I came in, he’d be waiting. He always had something to tell me. Stories about the practice, about politics, it could be anything,” Prewitt said. “The stories were always long and detailed. Very detailed. I always had to set aside an hour in the morning.”
Prewitt said that as a boy, “Ken was a military brat who lived all over the world. He always talked about wanting to go back to Okinawa, Japan, where his father was stationed.”
Keechl graduated from South Dade High School in 1980. Four years later, he received a history degree from Florida State University, and in 1987 earned an FSU law degree.
Decades ago, Keechl had a partner named Wally, who died in the early 1990s. About a year after Wally’s death, he met Adcock, according to Prewitt.
“Ted had been a Realtor in the community. He knew everybody. He was involved with H.O.M.E.S., Inc. [a nonprofit providing community and economic development to benefit at-risk Broward residents]. They gave him an award a few years ago. He was very charitable,” Prewitt said.
“[Ken and Ted] were good together. They were both strong personalities, but they both made it work.”
Keechl was elected a county commissioner in 2006, defeating Jim Scott, a former Florida state senator appointed to the seat in 2000 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Ken would say it was a triumph because it was basically ‘David took down Goliath,’ said Albetta, now a team specialist at the Broward County Property Appraiser’s office.
“The guy that he ran against had millions upon millions of dollars. He was once the steward of the Republican Florida Senate. Jim Scott. And people looked, and they giggled, when they heard the queer gay president of the Dolphin Democrats was going to challenge him,” Albetta said.
“And reality happened. [Ken] knocked on people’s doors. Thousands of people’s doors. And the LGBT community took him seriously. A very well-refined, well-spoken person educated on all the issues.”
He served until 2010. The last year of his term he spent as Broward mayor, chosen by his fellow commissioners.
“I ran for the commission not as a gay man but as a fiscal conservative and as someone concerned about the environment, but I am aware of the historic nature of becoming mayor and am proud of it,” Keechl told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2009 when he became mayor.
After leaving the commission, Keechl focused on his law career.
“A lot of what he did was helping unmarried couples – almost always gay or lesbian couples – when they broke up, getting some justice for the one who had been left behind, or thrown out,” Prewitt said. “That was really hard to find, especially before we had marriage. A lot of people were left penniless.”
Keechl and Adcock wed Dec. 22, 2011, in New York, after the state legalized same-sex marriage earlier that year.
Marriage equality became law in Florida in January 2015, six months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it legal nationwide.
Keechl and Adcock worked tirelessly for South Florida’s LGBTQ community, Pride Center CEO Robert Boo said.
“HIV prevention was important when I first met with Ken,” Boo said. “Ted, I remember having a very strong interest in youth and making sure there were programs in the community for the youth.”
Adcock served on the center’s board. “He wanted to ensure that the center was successful. He helped govern the board and steered the center in the best possible direction,” Boo said.
Keechl, Boo said, “was always supportive of the center, and kind and supportive of me.”
While leading Broward government, Keechl donated $50,000 from the mayor’s fund to The Pride Center, said Boo, who at the time was the center’s development director.
“The $50,000 was an enormous gift to the center. The campaign was to pay down the mortgage. They were supporters of the center when I joined in 2006.”
Boo added that Keechl “never had an air about him.”
“I never would have guessed that he was the mayor of the county. He was just very authentic, very open and kind, and didn’t make you feel he was any better than everyone else.”
The Pride Center several times honored Keechl and Adcock.
“Room 206, the room with the glass double doors, is dedicated to Ken and Ted,” Boo said.
Keechl was passionate about politics, holding office and doing the job, Albetta said.
“He truly enjoyed meeting the people. He enjoyed the clout and prestige that came with the position. He would say, ‘Michael, it’s so surreal. All the commissioners, the mayors, the city managers I have to speak with.’ And he loved doing it. He loved it.”
In 2016, Keechl attempted the first of two political comebacks, running as a Democrat for a Florida House seat representing Fort Lauderdale. He lost in the general election to Republican George Moraitis.
In 2022, Keechl ran for a vacant Fort Lauderdale commission seat. After a vitriolic campaign, John Herbst defeated him.
The political loss deeply affected Keechl. “Defeat was very hard for him. And don’t let anyone tell you no,” Albetta said.
Albetta said Keechl’s final campaign should not be his legacy.
“He knew he wasn’t feeling well, but he didn’t know why. Ken Keechl was taking care of his husband who was dying,” Albetta said. “His opponent got a free ride because he didn’t see the real Ken Keechl.”
Adcock died Dec. 29. Keechl learned he had cancer in early April, Prewitt said.
Fort Lauderdale psychotherapist Paul Hyman, The Pride Center’s executive director from 2005 to 2012, said Keechl always impressed him as being “a real advocate and leader.”
“He knew what his priorities were. He was very focused on his values and the values of the community. He was not easily distracted from those things,” Hyman said.
Hyman and Keechl had lunch together a few weeks before Ken’s cancer diagnosis.
“He wasn’t feeling well, but he wasn’t crazy sick. These things sometimes unfold very quickly. It’s what happened to him. It was shocking,” Hyman said.
“It’s emblematic how vulnerable and precious our lives are, to not wait. He was a very inspiring person. Very hard-working. He and Ted together built the life they had. They accomplished so much and it was cut short for both of them.”
IF YOU GO
“Remembering Ken Keechl” will be held 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, at The Pride Center at Equality Park, 2040 N. Dixie Hwy., Wilton Manors.
The celebration of life is organized by Dolphin Democrats, of which Keechl was a past president.
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on X, formerly known as Twitter.