CHALLENGE -- Peoples' Elections In Carrboro

We have an amazing opportunity in Carrboro over the next 18 months. When as many as six positions on the Board of Aldermen could be up for grabs. Beginning with the Special Election on March 19.

If anyone, including your preferences, truly wants to serve, they will have more than ample opportunity. So, let’s use these series of Elections to do more than just engage in Carrboro politics as usual.

Let’s use these next 18 months to encourage the widest, broadest and deepest conversation possible about the state of our town, and the direction in which it is heading.

In that regard, I have a challenge to all those who make up the political establishment in Carrboro. Stand back. Let the people have that conversation. Without imposition by you. Let them make their own choices. Without direction from you.

Do not nominate, do not endorse, do not lobby, do not campaign. Do not close ranks to anoint an heir. Rather, step back. And encourage as many different people as possible, with as many different views as possible, to nominate themselves as candidates. And then campaign, only for themselves.

So that we can all encourage the most open debate possible about the future of our town. Without any in positions of influence giving any indication as to preference. So that the people of Carrboro can hear, can ask, can decide, without feeling they are being railroaded in any particular direction.

To those organizations which normally endorse, I say this: send out your questionnaires, hold your forums, publish the results. And then leave it at that. Let the people make up their own minds.

To the rest I suggest this: hold your tongues, and your pens. No letters to the media. No posts on blogs in support. Please move out of the way, and create space for those whose voices are not normally heard; let them ask their questions, let them create the conversation, rather than the ‘professional’ talking heads.

Carrboro prides itself on being a progressive town. So Carrboro, let’s demonstrate progress with the democratic process. Let’s give it back, lock, stock and barrel, to the people. Vox Pop in Carrboro.

[This is sort of a companion piece to my earlier note on 'Establishment' in Carrboro -]



Way to go Geoff.

Great ideas - I'm sure Carrboro's ready to spread its democratic wings this way. I sure hope so - well put. 

... on Facebook, on the same subject. Oh. Am I allowed to say 'Facebook' on OP ... ??

Carrboro – let’s get down to some real democratic action. The
representatives you have elected in the past have been mere figments of
democracy. They have been elected without the real citizens weighing in.  Do you want to live in a town in which the actual
voters have their say over the people who can’t get their shit together to
actually vote? Outrageous! If someone chooses to participate in an actual election,
they are nothing less than a bully who wants to see the majority view recognized.
So, for the love of Carrboro, if you care about Carrboro & want to vote for
a representative, DON’T DO IT. You will be blocking the expression of those who
have chosen not to participate. And that is undemocratic!


I think, Mark, irony or no, I'll just leave it where I left it on Facebook. I'll let folks decide for themselves whether your words sound like a gentle invitation to all to participate in the affairs of their town, or a rant from someone who feels a tad put out by the suggestion that the circle of inclusion should be widened.

is already wide open. Participate or not. Are you kidding me? You or someone else is going to judge whether or not my participation is useful based on some vague bullshit? I want more participation just like you do. So participate more. I would never ask for people to parrticipate less. If you don't participate, somebody else will likely participate more. That's democracy & that's life. Feeling like you don't like what local democracy has produced? Step up and show some energy. Or, if impotence is your thing, try to convince active citizens to be less active.

I think the true essence of leadership would be about 75% of what Geoff suggests.  Let candidacies flourish, encourage participation, don't close off newcomers with early endorsements.  Yet suggesting that everyone "...then campaign, only for themselves..." leaves any sense of community out of the process. The whole process of campaigning and politics should be COMMUNITY enggagement, not atomization. Carrboro now has over 15,000 registered voters in 7 precincts (yes, that's correct). It's not the tiny community with 2,000 registered voters where progressive voters allied together in the late 70's to bring community control.  In the end in a community like Carrboro levels of community involvement vary widely, political scientists will tell you that "cueing" is an important part of the political process, where people turn to friends and organizations with more knowledge of the process, persons, and issues for recommendations.

Short answer: Gerry, I agree. And much as the early progressives in Carrboro no doubt had to oversimplify their case to gain traction, I may have oversimplified my suggestions.I draw my experience not only from Carrboro, but from the small municipality I lived in for 32 years in the UK, one much the same size as Carrboro (with oh so much of the same soap opera; you would not believe it!), where I served on the local municipal council.I had some experience in my community before being elected at the age of 23. Mainly in youth affairs. But if I am honest (and I try to be!), not enough to warrrant being picked (at the tender age of 23 - hang on, this is Orange County; 23 isn't tender; it's veteran) by the local establishment in that hometown to leap frog over two sitting councilors and a couple of better potential candidates. That's the way 'establishment' works.As you say, Gerry, sometimes it's necessary, in order to gain traction, for good men and true, and good women and true, to join forces against intractable opposition, to do in concert what they believe to be in the best interests of their town, lest they fail. Strength in numbers. That is not a bad thing.But sometimes, familiarity breeds. The desire to protect the flame of purity becomes so pressing that the same small group creates noise to deflect any change to the flow of what they see as the only progressive truth.That is what I have seen in Carrboro. And I am suggesting (hmm, over-suggesting, ok) that maybe we all take a step back, and feel safe enough in our progressive virtue to test whether it is seen with the same virtuosity by the remainder of our town, without those others feeling that they are not welcome in the exercise.What's the worst that can happen? The folks some of us would dearly like to see elected will put in their names. No-one else finds they have any interest in our town. And bingo. No-one's the worse for wear.I suspect this is what may happen with the Special Election on March 19. Realistically, even if folks find favor in 75% of my suggestions, it is unlikely that the body of the electorate will pick up on the ideas before close of nominations on February 17.But the Elections later this year are a different matter. If we all jump on board, actively encourage those we know, who have views, but may have never thought of standing before, if we make them feel welcome, and pretty much stay out of their way, I just wonder what kind of magic we might observe in Carrboro these next 18 months?And can we really say that Carrboro will lose out because of that magic?As to 'cueing,' I get that. But why not, at least for the next 18 months, why don't we all (individuals, media, blogs, whatever) agree to keep that advice private?When we endorse early and loud, when we nominate at press conferences, surrounded by the great and good, when we have splashy letters of support all over the media, we know, we truly know, our purpose is to act as a 'Stop' sign, not a 'Go' sign, don't we?Now Gerry, when you talk of community getting involved, and my suggestions not stifling that, there is another point. I'd forgotten it until you alluded to it.I was deeply touched, when I stood for office in England, by those who were my friends, friends of my parents, schoolchums, whoever, who wanted to demonstrate their friendship by spending an evening canvassing with me.I would never seek to deny others that warm and generous pleasure. It was very special. You were right to mention something like it. And I apologize if the breadth of my suggestions embraced denial of that gift.But again, it's about showing support privately. Not using it as a bludgeon to warn off would-be 'pretenders' to the progressive fortress.As for the rest. Why not, Carrboro? What do you say ... ??

I admire your desire to include more people in local political processes, but our local elections generally produce turnout of under 20%.  Some years it has been as low as 13%, I believe.  Based on these numbers alone, asking people to REDUCE their participation seems like a recipe for even worse turnout. Fewer and fewer people voting is many things, but it is not vox populi.The barriers to participating in democracy here are frankly, quite low. Anybody can post on this website for free.  Anyone can speak at a public meeting. Anyone can post a flyer on a telephone pole or dumpster. Anyone can share their views at the Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings. Anyone can write a letter to the editor of the Chapel Hill News. The cost to file as a candidate for this special election is, I am not kidding, $10.  This is 2/3rds the cost of a haircut without a tip at Friendly Barber. Wall Street-purchased democracy this is not.  Running and losing is often a great first step to running and winning.  That's how Barack Obama got started. If you know someone who has something to offer who is not of the "political establishment" that concerns you, and they are willing to serve, then find $10 and get them on the ballot. 

I've paid someone's filing fee twice. Back in 1973 when I was already running for Chapel Hill Council I sat in two classes  next to Pete Beswick, a fellow 2L at Carolina Law School. Pete, who lived in Carrboro, constantly complained about the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. I mean CONSTANTLY. I finally told him to STFU and gave Pete $5 for his filing fee and told him to run himself. He did and won. In 1972 I paid the filing fee for an AppState senior Steve Metcalf to run for Watauga County Commissioner.  Steve lost by 50 votes. After grad school he eventually ran and served as State Senator for several terms in Buncombe County. So yes, pay people's filing fees !

Patrick, what you say on the face of it sounds good, until one starts setting it against actuality.Nowhere do I suggest anyone currently active should not participate. I merely invite some to change the nature of their participation to prevent the possibility that their current participation may be hindering the inclusion of others. Frankly, I think you and I can think of situations elsewhere where such a plea finds resonance.Indeed, has it ever occurred to you that one of the reasons turnout is so low is that folks locally feel there is no point standing in an election because the pack is stacked against them? Leaving electors with little by way of real choice?It is one thing nominally to go through the process of participating. It is quite another to find a well-organized group blocking the way.This web-site is better than it used to be. Time was, if those running it didn't like what you had to say, you were excluded. It's interesting to note that I have never had a blog of mine make it to the main feed. Is my command of the English language that poor? My contribution that meaningless?Come endorsement time, those with a slightly less biased eye have noted that time and again worthy candidates do not make the grade simply because they are not part of the small group who frequent the organizations that engage in the endorsing.And on a slighly more controversial note, I have been made aware of more than one instance (and no, I'm not going to name names; those involved know who they are; that's enough), where an individual has been asked not to stand, in order to make way for another the 'establishment' would prefer.Now. What precisely am I asking? Name one idea I have put forward that asks one person not to be engaged in this coming election process. All I have asked of those who wield the loudest voices is, please tone it down. It is not enough, Patrick, merely to cite a level playing field. After so many years of it not being level, we must go that extra mile to make it obvious it is level, if we are to encourage more people to stand and to engage in a broader conversation.Forget whether you agree with me. Forget anything that smacks of controversy. It's irrelevant now. It's past. I ask again. What exactly does Carrboro lose from my suggestions? Nothing. So again. Why not?

Geoff says "has it ever occurred to you that one of the reasons turnout is so low is that folks locally feel there is no point standing in an election because the pack is stacked against them?"actually I think turnout is low because Carrboro has a huge number of low-information voters who registered to vote and participate in higher-level elections.  Reducing the noise level as you suggest will depress turnout even further. Having campaigns be just the candidate and maybe their friends won't cross the information/activation threshold of these voters. Now, again, I agree completely that the "establishment" should NOT discourage new and fresh candidates (or even recycled candidates who dropped out of the process)

But, as we have done elsewhere, Gerry, pleasantly!Filter through my suggestions again, if you would Gerry. I'm not suggesting that we reduce the flow of unbiased information about candidates (along with that they produce themselves).Let's have media coverage and forums. Where candidates can be introduced and asked questions. But no endorsements. No rah-rah in favor of one candidate over another.Information only. And then leave folks alone to make up their own minds.

Can you cite so much as one example of what you are talking about?

Most years there are three or four candidate forums. I've never seen anyone denied an opportunity to participate.  I've never seen any particular bias in any of the forums either - unless it is "biased" when the Chamber of Commerce asks about business issues (or when the Sierra Club asks about environmental issues).

Maybe you should actually attend some of these forums so that you will know what you are talking about. 

"Do not nominate, do not endorse, do not lobby, do not campaign."

If this is not telling people not to participate, I don't know what is. You are using your free speech to ask others to curtail their right to the same.

Local election cycles are composed pretty much of everything you list in the sentence above.  Take those activities away and other than the act of actually running for offce, there's very little left in terms of chances to be involved.

I understand what people mean when they say that they feel like there are "insiders" here.   What I've come to realize over time is that being "IN" or "OUT" of the community consensus is often issue-specific, and that the people who show up generally get credit for doing so, even if there is disagreement on an issue.

I've also learned that to be involved at a level where you feel like you're having an impact takes an actual time commitment and a willingness to sit around one or more tables with people you don't necessarily agree with, sometimes for many months, and be decent to each other.

The claim that other people participating is "blocking your way" in a place where even non-US citizens can run for the town board for $10 doesn't ring true to me.

Maybe your posts on OP never get promoted to the front page because they never deserve much attention. Certainly this one doesn't.  

You imply that the only genuinely grassroots democracy in North Carolina is secretly some sort of Stalinist conspiracy.  That's far from the case.  Any Carrboro resident with $10 can run.  And a diverse group of candidates usually do.

Looking back as far as 2003, Carrboro has had 18 different candidates for the Board of Aldermen, of whom 10 won and 8 lost (56% won and 44% lost).  These candidates break down as follows:

8 female candidates, 63% of whom won vs. 50% of male candidates won.

4 Jewish candidates, 75% of whom won vs. 50% of non-Jewish candidates won

2 Hispanic candidates, 50% of whom won vs. 50% of non-Hispanic candidates won.

3 African American candidates, 67% of whom won vs. 53% of white candidates won.

1 homosexual candidate, 100% of whom won vs. 53% of straight candidates won.

1 candidate with an overt disbility, who did not campaign and lost.

All of which adds up to the conclusion that local democracy in Carrboro is actually pretty darn diverse.

The only group that seems to have done poorly in Aldermen races are those whose campaigns angrily denounced Carrboro town  government.  There have been four of those sort of candidates and all four of them lost.

Who has been annointing candidates?I haven't heard about any such thing and I observe these things in a lot of detail.

As someone who is not an insider, it seems to me that the Independent endorsements come close to an "annointing." Of course, I may be one of the low information voters who, if I didn't have the Indy, would not vote. On the other hand, when I have become involved (in school board elections), I have felt some of the frustration that Geoff is voicing. If you don't get the Indy endorsement, it is extremely hard to get elected. And, at least when it comes to the school board, their endorsements are often not well researched or reasoned.

I would agree with Jan's point that there are certain essential endorsements that one needs to run for office, but I think that is not the case with getting involved.  The endorsement of Indy Week is a barometer for the leanings of our local community, but that type of dynamic exists in every community at a local, state and national level.  Because Carrboro and Chapel Hill are smaller communities, I think that this feeling of insiders/outsiders is magnified, and I agree with Jan that it exists with running for Alderman or TC. Having said that, I think that Chapel Hill and Carrboro provides ample opportunity to get involved in your local community, which I think most would agree is a great stepping stone to being elected or appointed to local government.  As an "outsider" I have been very pleased with the willingness of most anyone I approach to discuss local issues and help open the conversation to other groups.  The only group that I think is at an inate disadvantage is students that are involved and try to bridge the gap.  Lee's candidacy and involvement has done wonders for the town/gown relations in our community, but there's still work to be done.

I think we've got a little side-tracked here. Let me try and get the main issue back on track. And then offer a genuine invitation to the Mayor of Carrboro.My primary point is that the circumstances of the election cycle in Carrboro over the next 18 months (the possibility of 6 out of the 7 Aldermen positions being contested) offer an amazing opportunity to generate a meaningful conversation, that rises above normal politics.I say that conversation is most likely to take place with a wide diversity of candidates, which in turn is most likely to occur if we all make a determined effort to tone down the politicking (not participation; politicking), and do our utmost to encourage that conversation.Sadly, my appeal for a lack of politics seems to have been met with a fistful of politics. No matter. I'll plug on.Mark, I've said it before. I'm happy to state it again. You are one of the best Mayors I have ever encountered, on either side of the Atlantic. Inclusive. Straightforward. You don't duck issues. You address them. You create space to let voices be heard. You admit mistakes. And you have a great sense of humor.You have indicated you will not be standing again this year. This will be Carrboro's loss. You will, however, leave a great legacy of inclusive democracy.I wonder if you might find it possible to add one final chapter to that legacy? And I'm not point-scoring here. We're both good at the snappy, one-line quip. None of that. This is a genuine request.This isn't about ego. This is about bringing a new tone to the election cycle in Carrboro about to begin. Is there any part of my initial suggestions with which you could find favor? So that you could say, hey, as First Citizen of Carrboro, I ask for our elections here in Carrboro to work out in a slightly different fashion this time. Would you feel comfortable, for example, in openly encouraging a wide diversity of candidature, regardless of peoples' points of view?Would you feel comfortable in asking folks like OP and the Sierra Club and The Independent not to endorse, but merely to communicate, in an unbiased way, information about the different candidates?Would you feel comfortable in saying, hey folks, let's keep the politicking to a minimum over the next 18 months. Let's focus on encouraging an open conversation.I don't think there is any impropriety here. Beyond your natural concern as an interested citizen, you have no vested interest in the outcome of the forthcoming elections. No-one can rightly say, well, you shouldn't interfere, because you might be unduly affecting the Board which you will be Chairing.But as the outgoing Mayor, and one with an impeccable record in open democracy, you would leave the town we both love with a priceless gift - an opportunity to engage in the sort of civic conversation and civil election which would be the envy of towns across America.

People who support candidates should support candidates they support. Supporters of candidates who did not win in the last couple of elections should try again if they want to. Newcomers should run and their supporters should get involved in all ways possible. That's the way local democracy work.Everything else is bullshit manipulation tactics. 

Mark, I really do not think you expect me to respond to comments peppered with words like 'bullshit.' We're not going to agree. I'll let people decide for themselves whether they think inclusion will be widened by your attitude, an approach which smacks of protesting too much, or by my suggestions.In the meantime, I remain disappointed that those who hold the reins decided not to respond more postively to an appeal for a meaningful conversation in our community about its direction. Ah well.[I've also just noticed a couple of Anonymous posts, which must have been delayed due to moderation. Sorry mate. I don't respond to Anonymous posts. Have the courage of your convictions and name yourself. I do, and I have.]

Anonymity can be a symptom of courage and conviction but in many cases people just want to minimize indent flying information as much as possible on this Internet beast. Just knowing a name and the fact you live in orange county and with a couple of clicks on the Orange county web site you can find a wealth in information about where you live what and what you own. More than enough to begin a process I'd identity theft. Please don't assume people are not courageous ra have conditions when posting anonymous but may fear having their indents stolen causing grief beyond anything we can imagine.



So name some names of those who "hold the reins". Or should they remain "Anonymous" in this creative plea for some folks to dial down their civic involvement?  Also, when does someone who is perceived to "hold the reins" that agrees to this unique suppression of participation idea receive a signal from the politically correct arbiters of the scheme that it is okay to beging participating again?It gets complicated and seems predicated on some sort of conspiracy theory. It's balderdash bordering on horsefeathers.

Mark, let me ask you the same question I asked the Mayor. So that you can stop with the name-calling and the cute-punching. And actually deal with the substantive issues that I raised at the very beginning.When I invited the demonstrable political establishment of Carrboro please to tone down their politicking this election cycle, so that all might feel welcome to participate, so that none might feel the weight of endorsement and vested influence tilted against them, and so that there could be a genuinely wide-ranging conversation about the future of our town over the next 18 months.Is there truly no part of that invitation with which you can find favor? Or would you simply prefer to go on trying to score meaningless and rather rude points?Which leaves me where I began. Wondering why you are so vehement? And further wondering if it is because there is a ring of uncomfortable truth to my suggestion that elections in our town are pretty much trumped by an establishment which, yes, holds the reins?

Had two 20-something Carrboro residents as houseguests here in Raleigh this weekend. Polled them.  They had no idea that there was a special election March 19. They had not heard of the Board of Aldermen.  Only one of them is registered to vote in Carrboro (she's there for 8 years with an NIH fellowship) she voted in November in Carrboro.  (One of the two is my son, guess I'm stretching a bit to call him a Carrboro resident as he's there only 3 days a week, but he spends more time in Carrboro than anywhere else). I think it illusory that those similar are somehow following Carrboro politics, their voting information most likely will come from me, or if I did not know them, from the Indy

Thanks for this Gerry. But, you know. I'm still trying to work out why it is seemingly beyond comprehension that, if we were all to do more to communicate about Carrboro and its elections, just without bias and politicking, it might be a better election experience for all Carrborites.To be honest, I can't think of anything more to say to make that prospect appealing to OP-ers. So, I'll leave the appeal where it is. See what happens over the next 18 months. And end with a final thanks to Mark Marcoplos for a comment without 'bullshit'!

Nothing personal, pulse rate stable. It flatly makes no sense. Obviously that's my own personal perspective. If someone wants to back you up by explaining how such a voluntary surrender of citizen influence in any way contributes to better representation of the majority (or any significant minority), then I will certainly consider what is offered. It's no big deal. I just don't see requesting that some unnamed people and organizations stop their civic participation so that some apparently impotent or uninspired citizens can gain an edge in electing a candidate that they might supportt (if they actually had the gumption to get in the public arena and participate democratically). So - again - who are these nefarious democracy stompers who have the umitigated gall to engage in civic participation without first receiving the blessing of those who by definition have not participated in the political process.My brain is sliding over to one side of my head. I have championed fair representation in Orange County while knowing full well that I may eventually disagree with the views expressed by those elected as a result of a fair expansion of the process. I totally support more and better democracy. However, in all my liberallity and open-mindedness, I have no sympathy for those who are too lazy to go out the door and take on the issues but would rather lobby that those who are engaged should disengage. That is simply - and I am searching for a word that will not grossly offend the senstive among us - poppycock.

I will encourage everyone whose participation has resulted in expressing the majority will of Carrboro to go against their dedication to their town to stand down, & give up their civic energy so that some unidentified, vaguely disengaged, autistically political folks can claim what is rightfully theirs - political power over those they had no chance of prevailing upon unless they gave up or died (you know these conspiratorial pseudo-citizens  could die at the same time if they so desired, the controlling bastards...). This is what democarcy looks like.

None of the "silent majority" even recruited a candidate. The good news is that there will be much less participation in this upcoming election which will provide those who eschew participation more opportunities to do whatever they do in the absence of particiaption.

strikes again. Damon's sinister plot to leverage his OP editorship into a seat on the Board of Alderman seems to have worked perfectly.

of a problem with Damon then why didn't you run?  All Damon did was to file as a candidate.  If no one else chose to run that's their problem, not his.  And if you really believe that OP can control an election then start your own blog.  This is getting mighty old Geoff.

George you are confusing Geoff Gilson with Geoff Green 

Thank you Gerry for pointing that out.  And yes, Terri, now that Gerry has enlightened me I will go and clean my specs so that I may read more clearly next time.


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and nobody expects multiple Geoffs.

Geoff has not expressed any issues or problems with Damon. He has only asked if there is a way to tamp down all the endorsements and let the general public make up their own minds based on what the candidates say and do. I really don't understand why so many people are upset with this request. Most of us know at the beginning of the municipal election season which candidates the Sierra Club and the Independent are going to endorse--and those are always the ones who win the election. Is that because they are the best candidates or because they have the best PR machines? Good grief, after what we see in our state legislature after the last election, it would seem like Geoff's suggestion alignes with all the other efforts get money and influence out of our electoral process. 

I really thought we had all made our points on this one, and were prepared to move on. Apparently not. Sigh.Mark, there may be many reasons why there was only one candidate in this Special Election. Perhaps no-one else cared to participate. Perhaps the silent majority did not view it as worthwhile to make the effort because they did not view the playing field as level. Perhaps there wasn't enough time. Or maybe we just all decided we liked the one candidate in question.What I find interesting though is this. I know for a fact that regular contributors to this forum have expressed the view that they no longer engage actively in the governance of Weaver Street Market Co-operative. Because they see no point. Since the chips are stacked against them.As a consequence, we have had two years in a row where postions for Director have been uncontested. Why do we assume that the same impulse is not at work with respect to elections to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen?Especially when we have seen demonstration of what I regard as the bias of an 'establishment' on this very forum. When a post wondering if elections in Carrboro are played on a level playing field is kept off the main page. But a post extolling the virtues of the one candidate in question (who happens also to be an OP Editor) makes it prominently to the main page.C'mon. All I ask is for a level playing field and a genuinely open conversation in Carrboro elections over the next 18 months. Is that really too much to hope for? Is anyone really suggesting that active and engaged efforts to produce the demonstrable perception of a level electoral playing field will harm elections or civic affairs in Carrboro? A perception it was not possible to produce in this Special Election, due to contraints of time.

What I find interesting though is this. I know for a fact that regular contributors to this forum have expressed the view that they no longer engage actively in the governance of Weaver Street Market Co-operative. Because they see no point. Since the chips are stacked against them.


As a consequence, we have had two years in a row where postions for Director have been uncontested. Why do we assume that the same impulse is not at work with respect to elections to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen?

I think you greatly overestimate the level of interest people have in being involved with the internal politics of their preferred source of milk, eggs, and produce.

When you have an Election in Carrboro. And there is only one Candidate. And the vote is 264. The turnout out 1.64%. And 12% of those 264 vote for a Write-In. Don't you think it is fair to say there is something about participatory democracy in Carrboro which needs fixing? Or at least discussing. Calmly. Maybe before the next round of Elections?


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