Ben Marciano sworn in as next mayor of Ocala

New mayor shares his priorities for the city

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Posted December 5, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler/Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Ben Marciano was sworn in as the new mayor of the city of Ocala at Tuesday’s city council meeting, taking over for Kent Guinn, who served as mayor for 12 years.

“You have my commitment that as we continue to grow, we don’t lose who we are. In fact, I believe that in a world where there’s a lot of darkness, we can be an example of what’s right,” Marciano said at his swearing-in ceremony.

Marciano, who ran unopposed in the September election, shared his priorities with the “Gazette” the day before he was sworn in as mayor, naming the improvement of the mental and physical health of Ocala’s residents as one of his biggest goals.

“My big focus as mayor is to improve the physical and mental health of our community—we are rated one of the worst cities in the state of Florida for overall health,” he said.

The 2023 annual county health rankings survey ranked Marion County one of the least healthy counties in Florida in the lowest 25%.

Marciano’s passion for health comes from his long career in fitness and said he understands those who have, like him, struggled with mental health and addiction issues. He is the owner of Zone Health and Fitness, an Ocala gym.

“To improve the physical and mental health of the community, I’m looking forward to partnering with organizations in the community, providing resources, building awareness, really addressing those issues and being a city that is known for their health,” he said.

Marciano mentioned the Marion County Hospital District by name as an organization he hopes for the city to partner with, saying that he wants to raise awareness for the programs and free services they already have available, such as for diabetes and nutrition.

“One of the things I envision as the mayor, especially with a fitness background is having workouts in the parks,” he said. “Come visit these beautiful parks and have a day where you come work out with the mayor, and then you get access to see these parks and we get people out moving.”

The mayor serves a term of two years. The position is mostly ceremonial but has authority over the Ocala Police Department. Marciano said he has already met with OPD Chief Mike Balkan a couple of times to establish rapport with the department.

“I’m looking forward to working with our police chief… they’re doing a great job, I really want to just make sure that they continue to have the support they need and the resources they need to be successful,” he said.

Marciano said he has met with members of both the city council and the county commission to establish a relationship between him and the governmental bodies and hopes to build a solid working relationship with them.

“I wanted to know what their vision was and what their plans are for the community, and the same thing for me, I was able to cast my vision and what I want to accomplish,” he said. “I look forward to building on that and continuing to work with them.”

Marciano said he has not yet met with members of the school board, who are seeking to reinstate educational impact fees so builders will resume paying the one-time fee for each new home to support building schools so that the district can accommodate the rapid population growth being projected for the county.

When asked about where he stands on reinstating the fees, Marciano said he could not yet answer.

“That’s not something that I’ve been necessarily that involved in. I need to learn more to be able to give you an answer on what side I would fall,” he said. “I want our kids to get the best education, I think it’s so important that we invest in our kids, but I also want to understand it fully before I make an answer on that.”

The city of Ocala recently requested that the school board reconsider its schedule for reinstating impact fees, delaying the process by requesting that the school district’s consultant collect more data to inform how fees should be calculated for multifamily housing units.

Marciano said he wants to support the city’s infrastructure to keep up with growth, saying he has sat in on Ocala Marion County Transportation Planning Organization meetings.

“I’ve looked at myself as being a voice for the community, and sitting in on those TPO meetings,we have to continue to work on our infrastructure to support this growth. It’s imperative and we’ve seen it, we just need to stay in front of it, and we need to continue to move forward,” he said.

As he steps into his new role as mayor, Marciano expressed excitement and gratitude for the opportunity.

“I feel like there’s an underlying feeling that everybody cares and wants to do good. I’m excited to come and be part of that and to utilize that to serve this community,” he said. “I think we’re going to do some great things together.”

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