A Q&A with Mayoral Candidate Ben Marciano
Zone Health and Fitness owner Ben Marciano is passionate about helping the well-being of Ocala if elected mayor.
File photo: Ben Marciano, the owner of Zone Health and Fitness, at Zone Health and Fitness on South Pine Avenue in Ocala on Monday, July 12, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Ben Marciano, the owner of Zone Health and Fitness, is currently an uncontested candidate for mayor of Ocala and will take office if no one challenges him in the nonpartisan city election on Sept. 19.
Born in New York on May 4, 1979, Marciano came to Dunnellon as a child and lived with his grandparents. Named a distinguished alum by the College of Central Florida, he has an associate degree in criminal justice. He shifted his career path to health while studying recreation and leisure at Florida State University.
After undergoing recovery from an alcohol and substance abuse addiction, he returned to Ocala where he met his wife, Danielle, and started a family. They now have three children.
Marciano’s civic participation and leadership roles have included being named 2015 Boys & Girls Club Board Member of Year and the 2019 Heart Walk Chair. In 2020-21, he won the Rotary Club Community Service Award, and he’s a board chair of MainStreet Bank.
The Ocala mayor serves a two-year term and earns a $550 monthly salary. The duties are mostly ceremonial, but the mayor does oversee the Ocala Police Department.
What’s on Marciano’s mind? Here is an edited interview between the “Gazette” and Marciano, transcribed from a May 2 phone conversation:
I was reading your website and there’s quite a bit of information here. When you said you work “for the whole community,” what made you choose to say “whole”? Do you feel that some people are being excluded?
I don’t necessarily think that. I have a campaign committee and we met, and we focused on who I was and what my heart was, and the reasons for me running. We put words up and one of the things that was important to me is serving everybody, not just a segment, right? Because I would love to be a person who brings a community together. I haven’t looked at Ocala and said, well, I think that we’ve been divisive in any way. It’s been more about what my character is and what I believe in my heart, to help everyone, not just a segment of the community.
You’ve had a successful career in the health industry. Do you have some ideas on how to promote wellness throughout the community, maybe to people who can’t afford it, to get more amenities or services out there?
I recently visited the Mary Sue Rich Community Center, and I was blown away. Our community really stepped up and did an amazing thing for our community, and I think that’s a huge start … I was there the other day. They had a class with around 70 women doing Zumba. They tried to get me in there, and I ran! But it is a very impressive facility. I’d like to build on its success. Other ideas include a Saturday workout with the mayor. We go to a park and just start to plant the seed of fitness. That’s what I’ve learned over the years—that the hardest thing is getting started, and that’s where I want to focus initially.
Also, I think we have to continue to educate people in our community on how important health is. We are rated in the bottom third in the state of Florida for overall health, and without awareness, you can’t make a change. … I would love to partner with the hospital district. We’ve done some of that with my health clubs and will continue to come up with programs that are out in the community, like AMP (Active Marion Project) a project of the Marion County Hospital District focusing on workplace wellness and community health education), but I think we need to continue to build on that.
Do you have any plans to work with downtown businesses and businesses in economically challenged areas? Would you do more to promote entrepreneurship to alleviate the problems of wages not keeping in step with the higher cost of living?
I’m learning, and as I’m out there and the more I learn, the better I’ll be and the more equipped I’ll be. But I’ve sat in some of the CEP (Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership) meetings. I’ve heard that our wages have increased a lot over the last couple of years. So, I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. I know as a business we’ve increased our wages pretty significantly to take care of people. … I guess we just need to continue to be aware of it and attract the right businesses that will support that.
How is your relationship with people in the city government, including the city council? Have you built up a rapport with people who are making policies in town?
One of my strengths is I have pretty good relationships with people. I look at it as more how can I serve them, and then, in turn, it becomes a good relationship. So, I feel like I have a good relationship with the city council. I have not worked with them particularly. We’ll see what happens when we get in there and start working together. But I feel like I will have a good relationship with them.
Your website bio says that your grandfather was a retired police officer. Could you tell me a little bit about your upbringing?
My parents divorced when I was 3. I was born in New York. We moved in with my grandfather. He was a retired New York City police officer. We moved in with my grandparents in Dunnellon. Essentially, my grandfather raised me. He was my father figure. I looked up to him and, growing up, everything that I wanted to do was really around law enforcement. I had a passion for that. I went to the College of Central Florida and graduated with my AA in criminal justice and then went to FSU. Unfortunately, I took a bad path in my life. I’m pretty open about that. I’m in recovery. I got addicted to alcohol and drugs. So, it changed the trajectory of my career in 2005. I got help and checked out of a rehab center and started as a janitor and a trainer at a health club. I rebuilt my life and worked up from there. But I’ve always been passionate about law enforcement. My grandfather raised me to respect law officers, and I’ve always had a passion to be involved in some way or another. So, it’s kind of neat how it’s come full circle as, if I become mayor, I would have a role in being able to help with the police department.
Having gone through your own recovery, do you think that puts you at an advantage to help others in the community?
I think it’s one of the main reasons why I’m running. …I believe we go through different seasons to prepare us for life, and I’ve been through a lot of hard things in my life. And yes, I think it gives me a unique perspective to really help people in our community, people struggling with addiction, people struggling with mental illness, extreme poverty. I’ve been there, in all those facets. So, I believe that I’ve been able to make it through it and get to the other side through hard work. So, yes, that is my heart. My heart is to help to address addiction issues and mental illness and to be able to work on figuring out how we help the homeless population. Those are things that are important to me.
To learn more about Marciano’s platform and campaign, visit benmarcianoformayorofocala.com.