Kenyatta Johnson [Emma Lee/WHYY]
Kenyatta Johnson [Emma Lee/WHYY]

Final preparations are underway in Federal Court for a civil jury trial involving City councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

The issue: how he dispenses city-owned land.

In 2014 OCF Realty proprietor Ori Feibush and a Montgomery County developer Michael Pollock each sued Johnson separately over how he came to determine to sell City-owned property.

In the original complaint filed by Pollock under his development company Bag of Holdings, LLC, he charges that Johnson overrode guidelines used at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for determining the winner of City-owned vacant and disused properties.

In several transactions which Pollock had thought he entered a successful expression of interest meeting the PRA’s requirements, evidence was found after discovery that Johnson directly intervened to redirect the property to his preferred developers even though PRA rules specifically require competitive bidding when multiple expressions of interest are proffered.   The winners of City-owned property were those who established a political relationship to Johnson, the lawsuit alleges. Federal Judge Wendy Beetlestone dismissed the core claims in this lawsuit and it is presently being appealed in the Federal Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

In the Pollack lawsuit, internal Redevelopment Authority emails revealed that one such competitive bidder who got property directed with Johnson’s help is Felton Hayman, a personal friend of Johnson’s and a prior campaign contributor.

In the lawsuit filed by Ori Feibush which is now headed to a jury trial, Feibush contends in the complaint that Johnson had canceled land sales already approved by the Redevelopment Authority using the guise of Johnson’s support for affordable housing as a smokescreen.

In the Feibush case, internal PRA e-mails revealed that once Johnson had discovered that the PRA was in the middle of completing a land sale to Feibush, Johnson intervened to cancel the sale.

First filed in Common Pleas Court, the case has since elevated to Federal court.

The trial is currently scheduled to take place May 9th.

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counting

There are only two major cities in America still run by a political machine of the Gilded Age–Philadelphia and Chicago.

Political machines should not be confused with political parties.  People often get lost in this subtle difference.  19th century Philadelphia was rife with Republican party bosses and a strong ward system that not only cared how voters voted but all City services were dispensed through the ward system, including contacting the City for help–a responsibility once handled by Republican committee people spread out to two men for every four blocks.

Philadelphia underwent a political earthquake in the early 1950s as American soldiers sent off to Europe and the Pacific returned home at the end of World War II.   A large number of male citizens, all young and disconnected from the City’s political system arrived en-masse.  These soldiers spent years interacting with other soldiers from areas of the country that were not Philadelphia.  As they returned the Republican political machine in Philadelphia was at its most corrupt with various mobs in control of virtually all parts of the city.   It was filthy, corrupt and ugly.  It was time to clean it up.

That effort was mostly successful.

In the wake of a long string of scandals Philadelphia residents propelled ex-Republican activist Joe Clark into City Hall.  Soon after came Richardson Dillworth who brought Philadelphia’s age of highly-active central planning and the visions of Ed Bacon.   The feeling at the time was electric; armed with a shiny new Home Rule Charter Philadelphia was going to clean up the dirt and re-invent itself.

It was fleeting.  At the end of Mayor Tate’s reign in 1972 all the players and heavy hitters under the Republican political machine had become Democrats and the corruption and scandals resumed at the same pace as before.  All doubts about that were removed under mayor Frank Rizzo.

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Soon-to-be-former U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah (D)

 

Today’s political machine suffered.

For the first time ever a core individual at the heart of Philadelphia’s political machine was booted out of office.  Chaka Fattah weaved himself into the fabric of Philadelphia’s political life in the late 1970s.  By 1988 Fattah had established enough clout that he could create protegés–other candidates loyal to Fattah whom ward leaders would endorse and committee people would help elect.   Voters across Northwest and West Philadelphia were attracted to the story of his mother, Fatimah Fattah and her activism combating youth gangs on Master Street under her brand, the House of Umoja.

By the late 90s Fattah’s influence had grown into what political observers now call The Fattah Organization.   Philadelphia’s style of political machine is maintained as a family-affair, akin to a type of feudal monarchy.  It’s part of the reason why machine politics has endured for so long while other Northeast cities like New York threw it off a long time ago.   Tammany Hall died when Boss Tweed was taken down.  Philadelphia’s machine system is comprised of a dozen factions and splinter-factions, passing power through familial connections and long-lasting friendships.

The Fattah Organization was among the largest.  Outside of Congressman Fattah a whole network of neighborhood non-profits were set-up or run by former Fattah staffers. Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. is a member.  So is Councilwoman Cindy Bass.   With its leader facing the prospect of prison and Fattah Jr. expressing no interest in politics the Organization is certain to shrink or even die completely.

Political power comes in votes, and the supervoter wards are in Northwest Philadelphia
Political power comes by votes–The supervoter wards are in Northwest Philadelphia

 

Make no mistake–Fattah’s likely replacement Dwight Evans is not an outsider.  He is the leader of the Northwest Coalition which comprises all the top supervoter wards in Philadelphia.  Evans has been a power broker and a mediator between various factions of the city’s political machine going back to the early 1980s.  Evans is part of the machine.

Electing Evans however flies in the face of how Philadelphia Democrats typically vote.   Philadelphians re-elected John Street as mayor even in the midst of the pay-to-play scandal with scores of voters believing that a nefarious Federal plot was created to bring down the mayor.   Loads of voters were sad to see former State Senator Vincent Fumo go and would have gladly re-elected him even while in prison.

More importantly:  Fattah had the backing of the Philadelphia political machine and its ward system.  One of the first to endorse was Congressman Robert A. Brady, Fattah’s colleague in the U.S. House.   The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Local 3 also endorsed.  AFSCME endorsed.  The Philadelphia Tribune, an African-American local newspaper endorsed him without question.

Philadelphia donors however were far more skeptical.   Nobody was giving substantial amounts of money to Fattah–campaign finance laws allow political candidates to use their money to pay for legal fights.   It’s certain that attempts were made to round up a legal defense fund for Fattah so he could campaign, but it failed.  Fattah was left to abuse his franking privileges as a member of Congress to send subliminal campaign ads disguised as info-mailers.

Presidential Weakness

The Philly political machine has far less power in presidential election years.   Fresh young voters and first-time voters oblivious to how the machine works have always been the weakness of the system.  Witness:

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Mr. Bell here is holding in his hand a ward sample ballot–long a staple diet handout of party ward leaders.   Some states and jurisdictions ban the sample ballot as a form of electioneering, but in Philadelphia you cannot have a political machine or a successful closed primary without sample ballots, so they remain.

Of course there is nothing illegal about doctoring up your own sample ballot as there is nothing “Official” about any sample ballot handed out, as official-sounding as a sample ballot might be.   Every year there are mini-ward leader fights and witch hunts and intrigues when multiple versions of sample ballots are anonymously dropped off at voter residences.

In presidential years sample ballots matter very little.   New voters look at sample ballots the same way you’d reflexively accept a palm card on the street and not read it.   You know you’re headed to the polls to cast your vote for Bernie Sanders–who gives a fuck what it says on that “official” ballot?  It’s bogus.

Here’s the rub:  sample ballots are critical in non-presidential years.  You may have taken 10 minutes out of your life once in four years to go vote–machine supporters turn up at every election every year, and those sample ballots are critical in those low-turnout elections.   Next year’s election will only feature the District Attorney and City Controller as star races.  Last year was the Mayor, all of City Council, the Sheriff and the Register of Wills.

Did you remember seeing sample ballots at the polls last year then, too?  No?   Well, you must not have voted here then because several million sample ballots in hundreds of varieties are circulated every election cycle and have been for eons.

The Boyle Empire Has Failed to Grow

State Rep. Kevin Boyle (Left) and U.S. Rep Brendan Boyle (Right)
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (Left) and U.S. Rep Brendan Boyle (Right)  [Inky]

State Rep. Kevin Boyle and his brother Congressman Brendan Boyle have hit a rough patch.  The fresh Democratic brothers of the Northeast have tried since 2012 to build a coalition in the Northeast with them at the center of it.   This year Kevin Boyle while retaining his state seat in Harrisburg attempted a run for the Pennsylvania Senate against John Sabatina, Jr., the incumbent and son of long-time Northeast ward leader John Sabatina, Sr.

The Boyles have had aspirations of controlling more than the seats that they hold.   They ran campaign staffer William Dunbar against State Rep. John Taylor, once head of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee.  That failed.

This year I uncovered the Boyle brothers at it again with yet another Boyle staffer Fran Nelms who they put up as a Democratic candidate hoping to run him against State Rep. Martina White.  He also failed.  Boyle loyalists were flooding the comments on Philadelinquency incensed that I put up that article.

I also learned on election night that Team Boyle was so upset that they considered finding a way to take down Philadelinquency.

Kevin Boyle’s attempt to propel himself to the Pennsylvania Senate failed.  The Northeast isn’t ready for a new Boyle empire.

The Methuselah of Harrisburg Has Been Forcibly Retired

State Rep. Mark B. Cohen
State Rep. Mark B. Cohen

Speaking of the Northeast, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen who represents Oxford Circle and Castor Gardens and is the longest-serving legislator in the Pennsylvania General Assembly is also on the outs.  The name Cohen is recognizable–it’s one of the most politically liberal families in Philadelphia.  Mark Cohen is the son of the late David Cohen who directly participated in the political transformation of Philadelphia from a Republican city to a Democratic one and was a City Councilman for 25 years.

The Cohen family has always had some connection and relationship in Philadelphia politics since the days of Mayor Joe Clark.  Last year Mark Cohen’s sister Sherrie Cohen tried a run for City Council-At-Large for the position once held by her father.

By next year there will be no Cohen left holding a non-judicial elected office.

What does this mean for the future?

Philadelphia’s “tale of two cities” nature has separated younger voters from their machine-connected elders.

Machine politics in Philadelphia rests solely on familial-based connections.  Only through the family can you pass the machine from one generation to the next.   Loads of transplants from immigrants to ex-suburbanites moving into Philly have disrupted that continuum and it’s made it a bit more difficult for the city’s political machine to pass its genes to the next generation.

In the 1950s the dramatic transformation that led to Philadelphia switching political parties was shaped by forces beyond its control but the residents themselves did not change.  That made quick work of resurrecting the machine in less than a decade.  This time around it is the residents themselves that are changing.

This is what I feel is the source of the divide between Oldhead Philly and New Philadelphia.  The strong criticism of New Philadelphia and gentrification by a lot of oldheads is partly motivated by power–the fear of it being lost.  The odor of fear is strong sometimes at community meetings in places like Fishtown, Point Breeze, Mantua, Kensington.   Old Philadelphia hates change for good or for bad.  Old Philadelphia despises it.  Change creates uncertainty that leaves a sour note.

And yet–Philadelphia is changing.  The built environment is remarkably different from when I first entered the city in 2003 and now the changes are showing up in subtle ways in the city’s politics.

Philadelphians expressing disapproval strong enough to vote someone out in the manner Chaka Fattah was on Tuesday is a complete turnaround from how most Philadelphians would have behaved at the polls 15+ years ago.  You do not vote out the neighborhood son, even if he’s a scoundrel, even if he’s being charged.  You support the neighborhood son no matter what and you do it to the bitter end.

We are galaxies away from a municipal political system that’s competitive like New York City has had with its own local political parties or the sunbelt cities where political parties ascend and fall out of favor frequently.   New and old alike I don’t think could stomach that.

Still, you cannot help but notice the tectonic plates shifting a little bit.  The Philadelphia I know from when I moved here would never dare show a household to the door.   Today there are no more Rizzos, no more Streets, no more Goodes.  Tomorrow there will be no more Cohens and no more Fattahs.

Who’s next?

fattah

Vote Now!

No - He\'s done for
1 Vote
Yes - Corruption always wins
0 Vote

 

My sources out in Fattahland tell me that so-far voting hasn’t been that particularly busy.  What do you think Philadelphians will do today?

Is it more important to embrace corruption and keep on keepin’ on, even to the bitter end, or should we face reality now and find someone else to send to Congress?

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Fattah's Inner Prayer Circle
Fattah’s inner prayer circle

Today is a big day for teacher-endorsed indicted-congressman Chaka Fattah.  My long-time bud Dan McQuade has this really awesome write-up of Fattah’s fight for survival and the 3 Democrats who are poised to unseat him (although we all really know the real opponent is State Rep. Dwight Evans).

Chaka Fattah is facing a prosecution of a lifetime and the prognosis is not good.  Despite what political-pundits and the “wait for all the facts before condemning him” people have to say, Fattah is very likely headed to conviction.

Let me quote something straight from the U.S Justice Department about the Federal conviction rate when someone is facing corruption charges:

Summary of corruption charges brought in 2010 (Source: USDOJ)
Summary of corruption charges brought in 2010 (Source: USDOJ)

Yeah.  In 2010 it was a 90% success rate.  In fact most Federal criminal charges that are pursued result in conviction rates 90% and even higher than that.  You can sell a story about Fattah’s innocence and he will be cleared of all charges.  You have a much better chance putting $100 down anywhere on the outside betting lanes of a roulette table at Sugarhouse Casino and winning.

Fattah’s reasoning for why his outcome in his corruption and fraud case is going to be any different is a mystery.   He says he was targeted by the FBI.   Well, that’s obvious.  Anyone who is the subject of a Federal investigation is a target.  Usually those targets are found by tips and newspaper reports of wrong doing and shady dealings.   That’s how the FBI nabbed the speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver.  The New York Times spent years documenting Silver’s largesse and the stories attracted the attention of investigators.   That’s how it works.

But Fattah knows that.  He’s just really hoping you’ll ignore all of that.

To be honest?  Many are.

Circling the Wagons–All the Way to the Drain

Philadelphia has a certain reverence when household-name politicians implode spectacularly.

Fattah at an African-American church telling attendees to "forget the newspaper" reports about the Street FBI bug.
Fattah at an African-American church telling attendees to “forget the newspaper” reports about the Street FBI bug.  [Shame of a City]

I couldn’t forget my first moments living in Philly.  I moved into town the week it was announced that the FBI had bugged Mayor Street’s office as part of an investigation into West Philly drug dealers connected to an influential imam, Shamsud-din Ali.   The bug was discovered during Street’s re-election campaign and the FBI refused to answer reporters’ questions why it had chosen to bug the mayor’s office.  The silence led the public to believe that the bugs were specifically intended to nab Street.  To head off disaster, Democratic congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady embarked on a whistle-stop series of pressers and direct campaigning and stumping for Street including dragging actor Bill Cosby over to the house of singer Patti Labelle to throw a “See? Everything’s fine!” fundraising cocktail soirrée.

Very big national Democratic names were hauled into town to help save John Street.   James Carville.  Jesse Jackson.  Al Sharpton.  Al Gore.  The Clintons.  Much of the local media however was extremely skeptical given the degree the FBI needed to take to gain access to Street’s office.   The narrative being spun was that the bugs were a result of a widespread Republican-driven conspiracy in Washington to destroy Street and take down a black mayor.

Patti Labelle interviewing reporters at a fundraiser to re-elect Mayor Street
Patti Labelle interviewing reporters at a fundraiser to re-elect Mayor Street [Shame of a City]

Enough voters were fooled that Street whisked back into office.   Shortly after the election was over the indictments and the truth finally came, the “Pay to Play Scandal” that buried Street in a cloud of shame and became his permanent legacy.

Shameless plug time:  If you halfway pay attention to Philly politics and you have never seen Tigre Hill’s documentary Shame of a City I seriously doubt your political participation cred.  It’s required watching.  The documentary movie which covered the bizarre 2003 election season in Philadelphia has its own Facebook page.

Unfortunately for Fattah the level of cover-your-ass backup support has not been present for Fattah like it was for Street.   Street and the public literally thought a DOJ prosecution was imminent whereas with Fattah that is already past us and we’re on to the real drama–the trial.   Fattah’s son Chip “Fattah” Jr. is already serving his five year prison sentence for fraud on a School District contract.  There are close confidants of Fattah’s who have given prosecutors key testimony, the most damaging is Greg Naylor who has already plead guilty.

Who are we really believing here?

One way to know is to look at the money.   Fattah’s campaign accounts are dry while Dwight Evans is flush.  Fattah should already be sitting on a six-figure bank account in his campaign kitty so the lack of deep-pocket Democratic donor support says a lot.  Fattah ads should be all over TV, there are none.

Fattah is left to use loopholes in U.S. House rules to send craftily-worded info-mailers to voters to remind them of public services.   Fattah won’t reveal how much he’s forcing taxpayers to spend on the mailings.

The political machine which runs this town is endorsing Fattah and for one obvious reason:  after a conviction the machine gets to hand-pick the successor.  I’ll get to that in a sec.

Today’s Vote

Team Fattah is hoping with no fuel in its campaign motor that the ship will sail across the finish line on the wind of a highly-attended presidential primary today.  They’re also banking that most primary voters will remain either ignorant about the charges he faces or their reverence for his legacy will get sympathy votes.   If Fattah gets the nomination, he’ll win re-election.  PA-2 is one of the most Democratic congressional districts in America.

Fattah’s thinking will likely fall flat in places like Ward 10, 50 and 61 which have the highest voter participation rates in all of Philadelphia, a region which has solidly backed Evans.  Other areas like Point Breeze’s Ward 36 have low voter participation rates.  At a Democratic ward endorsement meeting in Point Breeze, committee participants didn’t even debate the choices available to them.   The vote to endorse Fattah happened akin to voting “present”, simply a reflex, with no thought given.

Many Fattah supporters have pointed to his longevity in Congress and that the risk of sending someone else would pose problems in furthering an agenda that would benefit Fattah’s district.

My answer to that is simple:  the damage is already done.  Fattah did that himself.

If Fattah is re-nominated today, his criminal trial will begin late this spring and continue through the November election.  Should he win re-election he will have no choice but to resign as soon as he is convicted.  He will instantly lose all of his House committee assignments due to House rules.   Because that conviction would be likely at the very end of this year or the beginning of next year that means Congressman Brady and the Democratic City Committee are likely to do some heavy maneuvering to select a desired replacement for Fattah and it will be a ward-leader affair with most Democratic voters left only to grant it their royal assent in a token special election.

Some choice.

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Yeah, I know.

Apparently because we have a primary tomorrow, loads of people have been digging through the Internet and their local libraries to find anything they can about Southeastern Pennsylvania.   Obviously that’s because we need some filler to tell the rest of America how voters think in Pennsylvania’s most populous region.

Once such paper that thinks they understand us is the New York Times.   In this op piece for their elections coverage they compare Donald Trump and his broad appeal amongst Philadelphians to the late mayor Frank Rizzo.

While there’s a few similarities between Trump’s style and Rizzo’s, those similarities are all in columns that would be categorized as negatives.

Take a simple, basic one:  the U.S. Constitution.  Both the braggadocios late mayor and the bombastic conglomerate owner running for President right now share a weak grasp of constitutional basics.   Rizzo didn’t know what the 4th Amendment of the Constitution meant.  Trump doesn’t know what the 1st Amendment is, the 8th, the 14th or the 16th.  Of course if he were ever asked to testify in anything that could implicate him in a prosecution, he’d immediately plead the 5th.  He has made statements that fly in the face of holding Supreme Court decisions under all four of those amendments including several items under the Bill of Rights.   The irony of this being Philadelphia where America’s concept of Federalism and constitutional freedoms were inked on to paper is not lost on me.  I’ve met enough Philadelphians who want to see their own rights taken away from them.

Now let’s jump right into the snake pit and talk about race.   Both Rizzo and Trump had very little empathy or understanding of Black America beyond what they picked up in history books before becoming public figures.  For Rizzo he was brought up in the then extremely-white Philadelphia Police Department during the time of the Philadelphia Race Riots on Columbia Avenue which telegraphed to his handling of black protestors and militants in the 1970s.  For Trump he was a slumlord in the early to mid 1970s trying to limit his properties from exposure to black tenants.  Trump could, of course, pin the blame of diverting blacks away from his apartments on his father.  Both were charged with violating the Fair Housing Act.   During Mayor Rizzo’s reign white flight from Philadelphia reached its highest and fastest levels helped along by a proposal to bring the City Wage Tax to 5%, fear and paranoia over school busing, the real estate tactic of blockbusting and a mass-exodus of factory work out of the city.   This changed the calculus for Rizzo and he knew that no mayor could ever hope to succeed solely on the white vote.

Humility

When he wanted to run for office again, Rizzo’s first TV commercial went from bombast to humility–the grandpa concerned about our well-being.  Watch:

Rizzo never managed to reclaim office.

Who Supports Trump?

Here’s this interesting map showing who clicks “like” to presidential candidate posts.  Bernie Sanders is purple, Trump is orange:

2016-02-15_12-23-01

For Donald J. Trump a good portion of old white rowhouse Philadelphia supports him and he’s definitely popular in Northeast Philly.    I can see Philadelphia selecting him as their favorite in the Pennsylvania Primary tomorrow.   The support comes from one of two mentalities, the most obvious one are racially-truculent white Democrats who’ve flipped their registration to vote for him.  They’re Democrats only because of their union affiliation and nothing more.  Over a thousand of these have temporarily changed their voter registration to Republican so they can vote for Trump; because Hillary Clinton is certain to win the Democrat nomination.

The rest who are the majority of his supporters are those who just simply want to see traditional national GOP politics put into chaos; not because they want to see Hillary in office, but because they want to see the GOP “purged” of what they feel is its most unsavory element; namely a small clique of donors who manage to have an overreaching say in all policy.

Trump found an issue that has put the working-class whites in the Democratic Party in the same boat with their Republican counterparts: immigration.  The GOP has been split on immigration since the mid-1980s.   Johnny Doc, the powerful leader of the electrician’s union and the largest local campaign donor is the embodiment of this among Philadelphia Democrats with his drone air force he wants to deploy across the city to hunt down and report illegal immigrants.   I’ve flicked through plenty of profiles on Facebook of Local 98 card carriers and seen all of their Trump repostings.   Businesses sit on the other end of this debate mostly silent and watching what will happen next.

Trump Loses Even If He Wins

One thing Philadelphians will not understand tomorrow is that your vote in the Pennsylvania Primary really does not matter as most of you have no clue about any of the delegates you’re being asked to support at the GOP convention in Cleveland.

Pennsylvania will be sending 71 delegates to the GOP convention.  Only 17 of those people are required to vote the way Pennsylvania Republicans voted in the primary.  The remaining 54 delegates can vote however the fuck they like.

Philadelphia Republican voters get to pick who 9 of these delegates are.   There are three congressional districts in Philadelphia (a congressional district is who your U.S. Representative in the House in D.C. represents).   Each congressional district gets three seats.   So, three congressional districts x 3 seats = 9 delegates.   Some of these delegates are not really saying who they plan to vote for in Cleveland (they don’t have to say who they want to vote for, or even have an opinion about it).

One who has made up her mind and has pledged her support to #NeverTrump is Aldridk Gessa-Lang, who has stated her support for Senator Ted Cruz.

I am a built guilty here myself here not knowing who my own delegate candidates are going to support for president.   On some of these delegates you’re pretty much left to hunting them down on Facebook and asking them who they support; if they’ll tell you.  Some of these delegates are really only in it to get a trip to Cleveland and will wait to be lobbied between now and when they must take a vote on the GOP convention floor.

Now we are at a knife’s edge.  If Trump fails to secure the required number of pledged delegates at the GOP convention, it’s these unpledged delegates who will decide Trump’s fate.  Trump was late to the game in wooing delegates and Pennsylvania’s cluster of 54 unpledged delegates, among the largest of any other state, are crucial for him to survive.  Suddenly, and without any warning, it’s these people who now matter the most in American politics–at least through the beginning of July.

Most GOP voters actually skip the whole delegate race on the voting machine completely so ultimately they wind-up sending a bunch of delegates working against their own preferred candidate to the GOP convention.

In previous election cycles the front-runner was fairly clear and a non-controversial choice—none of this really mattered and most unpleged Pennsylvania delegates were sympathetic to how Pennsylvanians actually voted in the primary.  Until now.

That is why for the next 48 hours we are going to be treated to journalists, pundits and TV anchors who have never lived here or only lived here during college mouthing-off their Pennsy and Philly expertise.

Enjoy.

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