Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman looks back on her 20 years in politics

Half a lifetime ago, Sally Heyman was a 29-year-old crime prevention specialist at the North Miami Beach police department. “You have to think like a criminal to catch one,” she told the Miami Herald.

That was an unconventional answer from a public official. Now, 36 years later, she’s leaving politics after an unorthodox career as a North Miami Beach city council member, a state legislator and a county commissioner. Miami Beach councilmember Micky Steinberg was elected by default on Monday when no one registered to oppose her.

Heyman, who couldn’t run again because of term limit rules, grew tired of the direction the local government was headed.

“I think the individuals involved in politics have turned to an uglier side of things,” said Heyman. “I don’t think they’re doing what’s best for the people anymore.”

A rare South Florida native who has stayed in the district for almost seven decades, Heyman has been a force in Miami-Dade county of virtually unrivaled longevity and influence. She advocated for women in healthcare, inspired people in the community to speak out against domestic abuse and always put people’s freedom of choice over her beliefs.

Heyman grew up with her older sister, father and mother Mary, who knocked on doors to include people in events, like March for Women, that made a difference in their North Miami Beach neighborhood. The acts of kindness a mother displayed made a young daughter realize she wanted to serve the public.

“I’ve always had a passion to help people,” said Heyman. “That’s why I got into law enforcement because that’s how I was raised.”

Heyman was a teacher who loved to give back. Her daughter remembered joining her mother in fundraisers for clubs at her school. From that point on, it was Heyman’s destiny to uphold her mother’s legacy.

“My personal life has been intertwined with public service,” Heyman said in her final installation ceremony in 2018. She considers her position a “help people business” and throughout her career, she has aided citizens from all walks of life.

Heyman graduated from the University of Florida with her bachelors in criminal justice and law in 1994. She worked for the police department in North Miami as a crime prevention specialist until 1987. She noticed the intricacies of diplomacy and crime work so she decided to run for city council.

“In the late 80s, when I was on the city council, we were all self-insured and a colleague of mine told me she couldn’t afford a mammogram until the doctor prescribed it,” said Heyman. “By the time she was instructed to do so, it was already too late.”

Her friend’s death had an impact on Heyman. When she was part of the task force to get insurance companies to cover the costs of mammograms for women over age 35, it was one of her proudest moments. She gathered people in the area to bring awareness to breast cancer and brought accessibility to women’s healthcare.

During her time as a council member, Heyman supported a bill that required insurance companies to pay for mammograms and passed laws that empowered women to stand up to domestic abuse, but she faced her most difficult decision when she served in the Florida House of Representatives.

When a requirement to wear a helmet on a motorcycle was presented to the legislator in 2002, she voted for it, but she was conflicted between her personal beliefs as a government official and a human being.

“I believe a government should be there to assist and set guidance but not dictate and intrude on personal lives,” said Heyman. “The helmet bill came up, you know, to allow people to ride a motorcycle without a helmet and it’s dangerous to ride without one.”

The helmet law states that anyone under the age of 21 was required to wear safety headgear. Anybody over that age limit was not required to wear safety head gear before riding their motorcycle. They would only be able to if they purchased an insurance policy providing at least $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries in the case of a crash.

“A motorcycle lobbyist came in and reminded me that I was a personal freedom advocate for freedom of choice and freedom of religion and respect the differences in people,” Heyman recalls. “ And this was something that they wanted to do so we negotiated it.”

Along with being a politician, Heyman also finds time to contribute to charity events. In 2006, Virginia Jacko, President and CEO of Miami Lighthouse, met the commissioner over a dinner with mutual colleagues and she remembers her being fun yet serious about work.

“When I first met Sally, I realized she was no nonsense when it came to business, but she can have a good time,” said Jacko.

She remembers moments when Heyman would help children at the lighthouse to make them feel more involved.

“Sally makes herself available,” said Jacko. “I don’t know how she has time to do all the things she does.”

Heyman served in the Florida House of Representatives for four consecutive terms before moving on to run for county commissioner of district four in 2002. She has been in this position ever since and has influenced so many people throughout the years.

Michele Burger was a legislative aide for State Representative Mike Abrams when she met Heyman and she was inspired by Heyman’s kindness and compassion.

“Sally is an unselfish public servant who is committed to causes and issues that change people’s lives,” said Burger. “She inspires others to champion causes that we care about.”

The public servant of Miami-Dade was sworn in for her final term on December 27, 2018 where U.S. state district court judge Beth Bloom made a heartfelt speech about how much the Heyman has given back to the county.

“I love what I do so I don’t believe I’ll ever retire,” said Heyman. “Charitable stuff is a big part of what I do as a commissioner in every rule I break, even if it’s just showing up, or serving coffee or volunteering, let alone giving money. I’ll do the public service and charity but no more political office.”

Many friends and colleagues appraise Heyman for all the work and dedication she has developed throughout the years.

“The Miami-Dade community is a far better place because of Sally Heyman,” said Burger.

Micky Steinberg has been on the Miami Beach city council since 2013 and is running unopposed for Heyman’s position. Steinberg is endorsed by many in office, including the commissioner she may replace, but she will have big shoes to fill as she takes her place in office on November 8.

As her years in a government come to an end, Heyman says wants to continue serving her people. Miami-Dade should expect changes in the county no matter what she does.

Carolina Villagra is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism at Florida International University. Her interests include writing poetry, reading philosophy books and the art of photography. She aspires to have her own podcast while working for the Los Angeles Times after she graduates.