Farad Ali | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County

Farad Ali

Durham Mayor


Farad Ali
Occupation: President and Chief Executive Officer, The Institute (The NC Institute of Minority Economic Development)
Phone Number: (919) 830-5104
Email Address: Farad@Faradali4mayor.com
Years Lived in Durham: 40
1) Durham residents, from the new group Durham for All to the demonstrators who tore down the Confederate monument on Main Street, are calling for more power to be placed in the hands of the people. In what ways do you think Durham can improve public participation in local government? How would you make room for that in city government?

The city of Durham offers many opportunities for residents to participate in local government. The City Council appoints members of the Durham community to number of boards and commissions that are important to the community.

Appearance Commission
Audit Services Oversight Committee
Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission
Board of Adjustment (BOA)
Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc. Board of Trustees
Citizen Advisory Committee
Convention & Visitors Bureau TDA
Convention Center Authority
Cultural Advisory Board
Durham Open Space & Trails Commission (DOST)
Durham Sports Commission
Environmental Affairs Board (EAB)
Firefighter's Relief Fund Board of Trustees
Historic Preservation Commission (HPC)
Homeless Services Advisory Committee
Housing Appeals Board
Housing Authority
Human Relations Commission
Passenger Vehicle for Hire Commission
Performing Arts Center Oversight Committee
Planning Commission
Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority
Recreation Advisory Commission
Go Triangle Board of Trustees
Durham Workforce Development Board

The above-mentioned commission, boards, and authority are comprised Durham residents. These leaders are sworn in to office to serve and given the authority to set policy, provide oversight, and to ensure Durham benefits from their perspective.
The city council has four full body meetings each monthly, one every other Monday at 7pm and one every other Thursday at 1pm. At these meeting, Public Comment is ALWAYS on the agenda. This provides the city council the benefit to hear from the community and to take public comment into consideration when making policy decisions. Additionally, the boards and commissions listed above also provides for public comment.
We must demonstrate transparency and assurance that the views of the people are reflected in the actions and policy set by city council. To be successful, it requires collaboration to assure a “One Durham” is inclusive of every resident’s voice, regardless of his or her race, ethnic, religious, gender, and political or economic status. Inclusive voices are active, constructive, and involved in the public decisions that affect the City. We must remember that we are called to serve for the people who put us there.

2) Because of state law, municipalities have a number of restrictions placed on them by the legislature: they can’t, for instance, be a sanctuary city, impose a city-wide minimum wage, enforce inclusionary zoning, or remove Confederate monuments. Under what circumstances should elected officials push back against the legislature?

We have witnessed a number of legislative initiatives that are restrictive/pre-emptive laws. The City is able to adopt local ordinances setting rules for Durham residents, only within the range allowed by state law. We have issued resolutions against the restrictions of the state legislature and the federal government to clearly express our progressive values of inclusion.
No matter how the particular legislation adversely impacts our residents, the remedies availed to us are to voice opposition through the adoption of resolutions, writing letters, presenting testimony, protesting and voting. We must continue to work with state lawmakers to convey our opposition and to galvanize citizens advocating in support of repeal of the laws that are not progressive and inclusive.
When it comes to issues of public safety, constitutional, human, civil and economic rights; we must take steps to challenges such laws in court. It is also incumbent on us, as leadership, to inform the public of the power the state legislature has over local communities- limiting local control or decision-making on legislation passed.

3) Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Durham take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Durham’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?

In our faltering efforts to deal with race in this country, a great deal of time is devoted to responding to symptoms rather than root causes. That may help explain why racism keeps repeating itself. Racism is still alive in the 21st century The issue of racial inequality, remains unaltered—it is not a trendy issue; it is an entrenched issue. It has not only been over the most recent tragic events in Charlottesville that takes us to raise our voice against hatred, racism, white supremacy, it has been around since the arrival of the first slave ships 369 years ago. So we, as the saying goes, if we do not learn from the history of our past, history will repeat it.
We all know, the depth of racism goes beyond the tragedies of Charlottesville I stand as a black man, a proud citizen and a candidate for Mayor prepared to take the steps to position Durham as a Guardian of social justice. To be the “guardian” of Social justice, the City of Durham must take the steps to demonstrate that the elements of unity, equity and prosperity as actionable items. While Durham has moved the dial on the discussion of race and racial equity and inclusion, to transcend our environment; we must be open to collaborating to building new partnerships and new outreach to our neighbors beyond our current established relationships.
First we must close the gaps. We live in a community where 46% of the population is white, and 37% African American, 13% Hispanic –yet the data clearly shows on all fronts that there is a great disparity in the economic and academic success of minority populations in comparison to the mainstream. Discrimination in housing-Homeownership: 43.3% for African Americans compared to 65.0% or above for whites. Poor education and the impact on Educational attainment: –earning a bachelor -30% for African Americans, 17.8% for Hispanics compared to 63.5% for whites. Median household incomes for African Americans: $34,766 and Latinos of $38,750 compared to $62,698 level maintained by whites. Durham’s poverty rate for children age 0-8 residing in a home where the head of household is at or below the poverty level is 37% for African American and 36% for Hispanics yet 8% for white children. Yes, these are today’s realities and if we are to uphold our principles and uphold the distinction of a city of social justice- we must move forward as “One Durham” and mend these disparities together.
I would rate the relationship of Police with Durham’s communities of color as guarded and one of mistrust. While elected officials have and continue to make genuine efforts to restore trust and greater engagement within those communities, the feeling still exists. Major efforts are in place to improve relationships through a number of policy initiatives that encourage police to live in the community, as well as, an increase in diversity training.
As it relates to the city’s leadership with communities of color, I would categories improving with intentions to be great. Over the past few months, I’ve observed the profound impact national and state leadership and policies are having in our community. Many recent decisions have been in direct conflict with our progressive principles. Regarding development, affordable housing, gentrification and revitalization of communities especially near downtown, there is continued concern of inequity and mistrust.
Please note… it is important to have social justice in our community, but it is CRITICAL that we focus on economic justice. There are many who want to “help” people of color, but spend less time “empowering” people of color. Issues addressing housing, gentrification and revitalization are economic issues. People of color have do not have the net worth of other communities, because of many reasons, to include discrimination, under resourced communities and little to no generational wealth being pass down (just to name a few). You cannot solve for human dignity and inclusion with social justice and not address the structural systems created and maintained that prevents economic justice and negatively impacts people of color…everyday.
We must focus on economic development, entrepreneurship, job training and development and human resources development training, as one solution to improve the relationships with communities of color. Unemployment and underemployment has been an unfortunate reality in many communities of color. We can and must address this issue for Durham to fulfill our human responsibility to one another.

4) Durham’s public housing stock is aging, and there is limited money to redevelop units. What are your ideas for keeping residents of public housing in quality, affordable homes?

Despite the lack of public housing stock, age, condition and limited funds for redevelopment; it is the responsibility of the Durham Housing Authority to inspect the housing and ensure that all of the units meet the minimum housing quality standards as established by HUD. There is no compromise to this requirement and failure to meet the standards will be detrimental to the housing authority, residents and community.
As Mayor of the City of Durham, I would work with the city council liaison to the Durham Housing Authority to develop and support policies that enable the development of sustainable, affordable housing options, support and strengthen federal housing programs, provide housing protections for low-income families, and coordinate access to services and support asset building to improve affordable housing options for families.

• Develop housing and economic development policies for development that encourage developers to supply affordable units, mixed-income, and racially balanced communities.

• Develop a housing strategy inclusive of the Housing Authority, County and City approved by the citizens.

• Revise current strategic plans of the City to meet the immediate affordable housing shortage plans of Durham’s low-income citizens within 2 years and hold the City accountable for reaching the development goals.

• Continue the penny tax initiative – consider strategies like a trust fund to leverage/generate additional revenues.

• Consider an public/private investment fund to support seniors in housing for remainder of life • Implement policy for public land use along transit lines to incorporate affordable housing and mixed use developments.

• Understand the cost of access to housing (homelessness, transitional, rental, homeownership, co-ops), provide supportive policies and strategies to improve access to housing and consider issuing a housing bond to catalyze meaningful impact.

5) While much of Durham has seen a renaissance during Mayor Bell’s tenure, the city’s poverty rate has also increased. What are your ideas for lowering Durham’s poverty rate, other than providing affordable housing? How can Durham’s renaissance be spread more equitably throughout the city?

My efforts for Lowering Durham’s Poverty rate begins by expanding the Mayor’s “Transition in Ten Poverty” to collectively address the areas of disparities: education, jobs, affordable housing, transportation and health. This must include government, community, and organizational, business, religious and civic support.

1. Turn Mayor Bells Task Force in Ten into a Commission equipped with the resources and stakeholders it needs to succeed.

2. Deconcentrate poverty by providing increased incentives and opportunities for developers in mixed income housing, affordable homes, rental property, and home-ownership.

3. Prioritize jobs and training opportunities in preparation of new employers and jobs.

4. Expand entrepreneurship, including setting goals for increased Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) participation in city contracts, and supporting programs that build local capacity to meet those goals.

I will call on every citizen -- tapping the experience, talent, and expertise of our business, civic, and community leaders, churches, nonprofit organizations, and universities -- to develop a plan that removes barriers to opportunity and fosters equity. Our strategy must be ambitious, attainable, and designed for the long term -- it is time Durham puts economic inclusion at the center.
The renaissance of downtown can be replicated and distributed more equitably throughout the City through planning and community engagement. Durham is recognized for its diversity and is a great place to live, and that is why I am so proud to be running for Mayor. Durham has seen great momentum over the past five years, with a burst of commercial developments, residential successes, a new center of innovation generating a hub of entrepreneurial development -new start ups and new employment opportunities as companies vie to make Durham their corporate base. Such success has made Durham an attractive community and we have been the recipient of numerous national accolades, which has brought a new vitality to the community (particularly downtown). I believe that this model can be replicated and achievements can be shared equally in all of Durham’s communities. This change will require proven and courageous leadership for shared prosperity.

6) The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project has moved into the engineering phase, although the Trump administration seems reticent to fund it. What are your thoughts on light rail? If completed, do you believe the project will be worth the community’s investment? Why or why not?

Since the 1980’s, the dedicated revenue established through the Highway Trust fund for transit improvement has continued to be contentious in each administration. Congress, elected officials along with the citizens of each state and community will continue to advocate for support to keep the federal investment in the critical transportation programs.

I firmly support public transportation and believe we must take the experience of our phenomenal growth and embrace the role of transit and the many assets it affords all Durham and triangle residents. With the growth of Durham, it is important to plan for our “transit future” just as the City and County and the citizens of Durham have done in passing the sales tax referendum that benefits public transportation improvements along with light rail. While we have had some changes with the state legislative action with the placement of a cap on the funding, the project has been aggressive in seeking additional revenues streams.

Yes, I believe the project will be worth the community’s investment. Public transportation provides connectivity and mobility and is key to bridging barriers to jobs, educational and opportunities for low wealth communities, relieving congestion and also serves as an economic engine. Data indicates that the work trip is the most utilized trip for public transit—so providing access to communities to have an improved transportation network that will take them to work, medical appointments, leisure activities and allow citizens to partake in events and activities throughout the community will be a great asset to the community

With light rail come a number of opportunities to make investments in communities along the proposed corridor, as well as opportunities for entrepreneurs and existing businesses. The Light Rail project brings opportunities for Transit Oriented development. I support the benefits that transportation investment will bring to neighborhoods along the transit line that have been neglected. Greater employment and entrepreneurial opportunities open up new doors, as development around the stations and throughout the corridor will include plans for affordable housing and mixed use.

This investment will not only propel stability in our neighborhood infrastructure-- for streets, sidewalks and landscape to support the new areas of revitalization. It will be an investment in the citizens that have called these communities their home. The Impact of the sales tax investment and the projected benefit of the 17.7 mile – 18-station light rail project are significant to the growth of Durham and every citizen. We live in a City that has world-class Technology Park. I believe it is time to advance policies to strengthen the success of our total public transportation network, including light rail and also commuter rail. I stand ready to work with the citizens of Durham as well as with the local governing bodies; state legislature, civic and business communities in support of this needed transportation network.

7) Given the current direction of Durham city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?

Yes, I would agree that Durham city government has been on the right course. I support the leadership of the City Manager, Tom Bonfield, and I believe the Administration is attentive to the needs of the community and works tirelessly to protect the integrity of government with transparency.
My job, as Mayor of Durham, is to make sure that we allow our progressive values and classical economic development to bring us closer together, to address our community challenges. We have experienced significant growth and revitalization, no longer are we a small city, but a city with the one of the top two private employers in the state, the home of Research Triangle Park, which is going through a renaissance, 2 world class universities with athletic champions in football, basketball, and more, nationally recognized as a city of innovation/entrepreneurship, and a diverse and progressive population.

8) Please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.

Poverty, Policing and Affordable Housing.

1) Poverty/Inequities.

Of all the challenges confronting city government, the single most important challenge is Poverty. Due to the disparity in poverty (people of color more than any other group), we are unable to share in the prosperity of Durham.

This inequalities divide us. At a time when parts of the city are experiencing great prosperity, others are being left behind. Durham has won national acclaim for our growth, economic development, business, and universities -- but 17.9% of our people live in poverty. That is higher than the state average, and it is unacceptable. Further, nearly a quarter of all census tracts in Durham County are designated as high-poverty. Some have child poverty rates above 63%. We must give children and families a chance to secure a job, earn a living wage, obtain a quality education, and excel in school. Also access to housing, a safe community, food, and good health care is paramount. It is time to get serious about tackling poverty and bringing opportunity to all people.

One of the solutions to poverty is providing jobs and assisting residents to achieve full employment. Providing a job training program for Durham residents for the jobs in our community. Currently we are at full employment, yet businesses have emplyment needs. Many of the employers have expressed that many Durham reisdents need additional skills. This is an opportunity for job development and training programs to meet some occupational needs in out community. Healthcare, construction and technology are growing industries in Durham that need additional workers. We can maximize the Durham Workforce Development Board relationships with Industry (Public and Private) to create a strategy to secure more job for Durham residents based on Indusrty needs.

Each day a total of around 200,000 people work in Durham, which includes 100,000 people from other counties coming to Durham to work. We have an opportunity to create more place based economic opportunities for Durham residents and Durham workers.

2) Policing/Safe Communities

A major concern of families, youth and seniors voiced to me most frequently is that of safety and the role of the police in keeping them safe. Over the past year the mistrust of law enforcement officials has been well documented. I believe that the Durham Police Department has a unique opportunity with new leadership to transform the image, trust, performance and the relationship between the community and police force. That includes addressing issues of racial disparity in policing and a greater emphasis on communicating with the citizens. I also believes that “it takes a village” to build a community and would prioritize transparency and communication with the residents of Durham. Starting with the office of the Mayor, City Council and Police Chief working together to strengthen the integrity of the police force in the communities eyes and to assist in preparing the force to better understand our diversity, be more tolerant and understanding and ultimately more successful in their role to keep our community safe
I fully support annual racial equity training as well as other practical diversity and human rights training that serves to build trust, prevent racial profiling and prepare the police for successful and safer interactions and outcomes. In addition, I strongly support policies for community policing and incentives to encourage members of the police force to reside within the city as well as the “Take a Car Home” initiative. To encourage greater transparence, I support the use of body camera’s and continued documentation of data to track the number of traffic stops and searches in an effort to address the issue of racial profiling and presentation of this data in the Quarterly reports to the Council. I would continue to support the positive trends of the police, and I would encourage the council to provide the support the Police Chief to lead without the council being disruptive without cause.

3) Affordable Housing

In Durham, the data is clear: for every 100 very low income renter household, there are only 79 rental affordable units available; a total of 27,000 cost burdened households are paying over 30% of their income for housing—of these 15,000 are severely housing cost burdened, paying over 50% of their income for housing. In Durham, on any given night, approximately 750 Durham residents are homeless and finally we know that very low-income households, particularly renters concentrated in Central Durham are being displaced due to the growth, rent escalation and cost of homes and tax increases.
Poverty and the absence of affordable housing render many people homeless and housing insecure --so we must strive to keep the beauty of Durham’s diversity and not lose it to exclusion of the growth of downtown. We must preserve the option for people to remain in their home neighborhoods and not be priced out by new development. We must act today to prepare the affordable housing for the future.

• Develop housing and economic development policies for development that encourage developers to supply affordable units, mixed-income, and racially balanced communities.

• Develop a housing strategy inclusive of the Housing Authority, County and City approved by the citizens.

• Revise current strategic plans of the City to meet the immediate affordable housing shortage plans of Durham’s low-income citizens within 2 years and hold the City accountable for reaching the development goals.

• Continue the penny tax initiative – consider strategies like a trust fund to leverage/generate additional revenues.

• Consider an public/private investment fund to support seniors in housing for remainder of life

• Implement policy for public land use along transit lines to incorporate affordable housing and mixed use developments.

• Understand the cost of access to housing (homelessness, transitional, rental, homeownership, co-ops), provide supportive policies and strategies to improve access to housing and consider issuing a housing bond to catalyze meaningful impact

• There are other strategies to consider: land banking to keep housing affordable in communities, offering a density bonus to developers, the circuit breaker idea is a possibility and more community economic housing strategies for renters to become homeowners for wealth creation.

9) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

My proven public and professional leadership make me the ultimate candidate to continue the economic progress, while at the same time address an epidemic of poverty, housing, gentrification and racial divide. I am the candidate for Mayor who can build “One Durham” where all communities, races and cultures are integrated and share the same prosperity. The Mayor of Durham must be an experienced collaborator, proven leader, sincere listener, community servant, and courageous. I will bring all of these traits be to serve as your Mayor.

Currently, I am the President and Chief Executive Officer of a 30 year-old non-profit that has a mission to strengthen the asset base of diverse populations through policy, education and opportunities. In my role as the organization’s leader, I work directly with local, state and national government leaders to shape inclusionary policies for diverse populations to participate in educational programming and to gain access to economic opportunities.

As a specific example of this work, we formed a partnership we with the County of Durham to address deficiency in the utilization in contracting with minority and women owned businesses. We provided the supportive services for the Durham County Commissioners to pass an ordinance in 2016 to set an aspirational goal 25% of its contracts to minority and women-owned businesses. From July 2007 to June 2012, the County of Durham awarded 6% of contracts to minority and women owned businesses.

After the ordinance was passed, we designed a program to empower minority and women owned businesses to compete for government contracts, addressing historical inequalities. At the end of the first year of the partnership, we successful achieved the aspirational goals of 25% of contracts to minority and women owned business.

Previously, I served on Durham City Council from 2007-2011. During this time, we needed to address a number of important community issues in the northeast central Durham community. I was appointed by Mayor Bill to lead the City Council, North East Central Durham subcommittee with 3 other members of council. This was significant, not because I had the privileged to led as a “freshman” councilor, but because we had 4 members of council on the committee. As we made decisions about addressing the various needs of the northeast central Durham community, we had a majority of members of council on the committee to address many concerns and implement change without much additional discussion from other council members.

Specific example of the work of the committee and my leadership:

1) Conducting standing meeting each monthly, which was not occurring before.

2) Organizing the NE Central Durham Committee Members to conduct community meetings with the Community Development Department and hiring a NE Central Durham city liaison.

3) Conducting a strategic planning retreat to heighten the concerns about Poverty, Economic Development, and Housing

4) We organized leaders in the NE Central Durham Community to lead committees to organize around Poverty, Economic Development and Housing.

As a result of my work as Chair of this committee, I was recognized by the National League of Cities (NLC) and appointed at a national conference in Denver, Colorado to serve on the NLC Economic Development Committee.

Since completing college, I have served the Durham community as a leader, visionary, collaborator and innovator. I come to the people of Durham humbled and ready to serve because my life’s work in public service, business, not for profit and community organizations has prepared me well to bring the people of our great City together to listen, act to achieve results and serve as their voice.

I also learned discipline and integrity and how to handle respectfully varying viewpoints. The skills I acquired from attending business school at Campbell, UNC and Dartmouth have strengthened my educational foundation. I have 25 years in the financial and consulting industry, generated over $1billion of economic opportunity within the Durham community and statewide for minority and women owned businesses. Additionally, I was honored to serve as a nation leader at the White House African American Leadership in Action Conference advising White House staff about strategies to increase utilization of minority businesses.

10) Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

One example of action by the city council that went wrong was the City Administration recommended to the City Council to approve the guidelines for the Property Tax Relief Deferred Loan Program. The Program was designed to assist eligible homeowners whose property tax increases occurred due to the impact of the City of Durham neighborhood revitalization or home improvements in the Southside, Northeast Central Durham, and Southwest Central Durham target areas.

By a vote of 4/3, City Council decided to provide grants to those homeowners in the Southside area as described by the staff’s current map who are at or below 60% of the Area Median Income, who have lived in their house at least five years, and who have had their property taxes rise at least 10% from 2015 to 2016, and these grants would cover the increase in property taxes from 2015 to 2016 minus any tax relief already provided to these homeowners through the state’s circuit breaker programs; and to direct the staff to come back to the Council with a comprehensive housing stabilization program for other areas of the City.

While I understand the debate about the loan program be changed to a grant program, the members of City Council who supported this action was shortsighted because it excluded Northeast Central Durham and Southwest Central Durham target areas. This is an example of public policy not be administered fairly as recommended by the City Administration.

I believe the City’s biggest accomplishment was passing the 2017-2018 budget. This budget, as the previous budgets, provided the opportunity for residents and community leaders to provide voice to what they thought was important. The City Council listened to the concerns and acknowledged the concerns by:

1. Including an additional 1 cent (now 2 cents) property tax increase to help fund the Five-Year Affordable Housing Strategy
2. Committing $6.6 million to street resurfacing and maintenance efforts, which is $3.6 million more than they had initially planned
3. Eliminating fees and allows more youth to have access to City recreation facilities and programs.
4. Continuing efforts to get all city employee to $15 per hour

There are many other budget decisions made by the City Council and recommended by the City Administration, but the four items above were the result of direct input from the community.

11) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

As a progressive, who works every day for equity and equality for people of color and women, it is my firm belief that we must be inclusive community where all the voices of all people fuel the decisions and actions of elected officials. My political philosophy is encompassed in the mantra of my campaign theme: “One Durham”, which can bring greater unity, action and prosperity for all.

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

I am honored and excited to be considered by all of the people of Durham to serve as Mayor of the City of Durham. A Durham that has transformed from a tobacco town to the 4th largest city in North Carolina with two historic universities, North Carolina Central University and Duke University. A city that is emerging as the Silicon Valley of the southeast with major redevelopment and home of a the world renowned Durham Performing Arts Center, the Durham Bulls, Hayti Heritage Center, and so much more.

As a result of investment from industry and individuals, Durham is the place to be. We are experiencing growing pains with heighten social and economic disparities, which have always been evident. We must not build a building without building community and building people. When economic development does not take into consideration the community development and the human development, prosperity is not shared.

Progressive values and classic economic development are not mutually exclusive and anyone who says so is dividing this community and not bringing us together. We must be intentionally inclusive or we will be unintentionally exclusive. As a former community development banker, I financed affordable housing projects and I understand the economic challenges of the people in the community…as a 40-year resident and a product of the Durham Public Schools. I reinvested in communities of color that were destroyed by the disinvestment of private and public entities. The marketplace has structural barriers that are not diverse or inclusive. Durham recognizes the opportunity to pivot and to be the change we want to see in the state and the nation.

We can cure our social ills, if we align our economic development principles of the triple bottom line (profits, people and planet). Classic economic development will value the community and the people. I want to make sure that the entire Durham community understands that we MUST broaden Durham’s perspective on what Progressive Politics really means for the entire community. We cannot have social justice without economic justice. All the candidates are speaking about Affordable Housing, Gentrification, and Revitalization. These are economic justice issues and I do this work everyday in our local community, statewide and in the nation. I am prepared to be the Mayor of Durham and yes, I am a progressive who believes there is no social justice without economic justice.

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