By Dale Madison
For Ken Keechl, public service is more than one of the highest callings: It runs in his veins. Keechl served on the Broward County Commission from 2006 until 2010, and was the first openly-gay official elected to that governing body. In 2009, he was named Broward County’s Vice Mayor, and the following year, he became Broward County Mayor, at the time the highest-ranking, openly-gay official in the United States.
Gay, straight, left, or right, Keechl says that politics is about people. “Even though in the commission you are elected on a non-partisan basis, I am a Democrat, but am very proud that I have a number of members of the Grand Old Party who have stuck with me, and have even gotten out and campaigned for me.” That loyalty was earned by his commitment to staying on top of what matters to his constituents. “I have always focused on the issues.”
He says that he is proud of many accomplishments during his time on the county commission, noting in particular his hard work “to protect the environment,” and his opposition to unfettered growth by developers. While Broward County Mayor, Keechl says that he worked hard with fellow commissioners to cut waste in the budget, and helped reduce the county budget from $3.7 billion to $3.3 billion.
“My personal political philosophy as an elected official: ‘If you are not at the table, you are not part of the meal,’” Keechl says. “As someone who is elected, you have to participate, you can’t just look on.” Although Keechl is proud of the political and community partnerships he forged across the broad spectrum of Broward County’s landscape, he says he never forgets the people whose voice in large measure he represents.
“When I got on the commission, one of the first questions I asked was, ‘Do we offer domestic partnership benefits to our county employees?’ At the time, we didn’t.” “I started a search, and I was able to find a company that could offer them at a reasonable rate,” Keechl recalls. “In 2007, I asked the same question regarding benefits for transgender individuals, and was able to get an amendment to add those brothers and sisters to the availability for coverage.”
Keechl says that building relationships is the hallmark to being an effective and connected representative of his constituents’ concerns. “I didn’t run for the office to close doors, I ran for office to open doors,” he adds. Keechl is pleased with the direction that Broward County has taken, and thinks that he can add a voice of experience, energy, and compassion to the policy discussion.
“I am very excited about how this commission has embraced the progressive agenda,” he notes. “Four years ago, I left the law firm [Kopelowitz Ostrow, Ferguson, Weiselberg—oh, and Keechl] to run for office. I barely lost, so I returned to law practice doing mostly pro-bono work.” Redistricting of the commission seats places a large LGBT population in the newly-drawn District 7. As Keechl explains, “Every ten years, the county redraws the districts, and beginning last year, the calls started coming in to me,” he laughs.
“‘We miss you on the commission,’ people would tell me, so after looking at the new district I decided to throw my hat in the ring.” He describes the political landscape. “Originally I was one of four candidates, along with Charlotte Rodstrom, Tim Ryan, and Evan Jenne. Jenne dropped out of the race.”
The once-and-(he hopes)-future commissioner has an eye on the election, and beyond, noting the challenges of local politics and policy. “I am really looking forward to returning to the county commission. It sometimes is a real challenge, but is one of the most rewarding adventures when you know that you are making a difference, not just for today, but for the future.”