Running for mayor on a real-life resume

By Brad Rogers

There are those who say the American Dream is a myth or an idea whose time has passed. In fact, Gallup says 36 percent of U.S. adults believe The Dream is dead.

Well, to those naysayers, let me introduce you to Ben Marciano.

Marciano, a 43-year-old gym owner who is running for mayor of Ocala, exudes gratitude and pride in achieving his version of The Dream. It didn’t come easy.

“What I’ve found is that if you have a strong work ethic, take personal responsibility and give back in business and in life, give back to your community, then good things happen,” said the owner of The Zone Health and Fitness.

With Kent Guinn stepping down after 12 years as mayor, Marciano is pursuing the office with vigor. As of this writing, he is the only announced mayoral candidate. He has generated tons of support, raising an impressive $107,000 in campaign donations so far — for a job, incidentally, that pays $550 a month. The city election is Sept. 19.

Marciano told me he wants to focus on three main areas as mayor.

First, as the grandson of a New York City policeman he wants to improve public safety through more support and resources for police, with special emphasis on connecting with the city’s northwest corner.

Second, he believes the city’s collective mental and physical health needs nurturing. He said one in four Ocalans suffer from mental health issues and the city is in the bottom one-third of communities around Florida in terms of physical health.

Finally, the husband and father of three wants better growth planning, strategic infrastructure and more focus on attracting businesses that serve families.

All are valid objectives, to be sure. Marciano brings more than lofty campaign themes or bumper-sticker slogans, though. He brings real-life experience – some not the kind you typically hear from a man running for mayor.

Marciano moved here from New York when he was 2, after his parents divorced. His mother and he moved in with his grandfather, who lived near Dunnellon. That is where Marciano grew up.

While attending Lecanto High School, he began drinking because it gave him “confidence.” The drinking would continue while he attended the College of Central Florida where he majored in criminal justice. He wanted to be a police officer like his grandfather.

He went on to Florida State University where his drinking led him to start using drugs. After a party one night, Marciano was arrested and charged with felony drug possession, ending his dream of becoming a policeman.

He went to work at a gym in Tallahassee to pay his fines and court costs and says he “fell in love with the business.”

Yet, he remained addicted to drugs. He moved back to New York for a while to run a gym and then moved to Miami to do the same. His addictions followed him and worsened, to the point he couldn’t work “and was losing everything.”

In 2005, he returned to Marion County and entered The Centers where he underwent drug and alcohol treatment. He left there “with a few pieces of clothing and a mountain of debt,” but went on to complete drug court and have his record expunged.

Good things began happening. He went to work at an Ocala gym. One day, a young woman came in to join. After meeting her, he called his father and said he had met the woman he was going to marry. Indeed, he had. He married Danielle, his wife now of 16 years.

He didn’t stop moving forward. The Ocala YMCA lured him away to work there. In his new job he would double the Y’s membership, which led to him being named executive director. As the Y boss, he was charged with leading a $3 million capital campaign. They raised $5 million.

Then in 2014, local banker and businessman Tom Ingram approached Marciano and offered to help him start his own gym. That night, Marciano said he had a dream in which he felt that God spoke to him, telling him he could do good things if he owned his own gym. A few months later The Zone opened with 900 members.

Today The Zone’s membership is 6,200 and it has 100 employees, Marciano said.

The American Dream come true that is Ben Marciano is remarkable, given his start and the hurdles he had to overcome. In 2020, CF gave him its Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2021, the Ocala Rotary Club honored him with its Community Service Award. He sits on a local bank board of directors, as well as a bevy of boards for charitable organizations, most involving children’s needs.

“I’ve been blessed,” he tells me over and over. “I want to give back. I love serving people. I just want to help people and I want our community to be better.”

Marciano’s resume isn’t typical for a guy running for mayor. No, his is one of real-life trials, of real-life failures and, most important, of real-life success. Marciano is happy, prosperous and sober. And, oh yeah, he’s running for mayor.

Ah yes, the American Dream is indeed alive and well.

Brad Rogers, OM Editor
Brad Rogers, OM Editor
Back to top button