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Ed Turanchik won’t attend private candidate forums

Tampa mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik pledged not to participate in any private candidate forums closed to the media and is asking his opponents to do the same.

“I don’t think it’s right to have the candidate field all together in a forum that’s private, giving answers to people who have a very specific interest, and it’s not open to the public or it’s not open to the press,” Turanchik told Florida Politics. “It’s a really bad idea.”

Turanchik, a Tampa lawyer, said the issue didn’t come up the last time he ran for mayor eight years ago.

But this year, he took notice after receiving invitations to two separate forums that would be closed to the public and where journalists were not allowed to cover what commitments candidates made to private audiences.

The first invitation came from an economic development organization, Turanchik said, but when he raised concerns about the format, the group changed course and opened the event.

But he said he received a second invite from a major law firm to speak at a panel that would only be attended by professionals and clients invited by the firm. That invitation he declined.

Turanchik did not name the event sponsor and said the problem he has isn’t so much with organizers.

“I don’t blame them for asking,” he said. “It’s the answer they got back from candidates that is disappointing.”

Florida Politics emailed the other candidates already filed to run for mayor whether they would participate in private forums. That list includes: Jane Castor, Harry Cohen, Sam Brian Gibbons, Michael Anthony Hazard, LaVaughn R. King, Topher Morrison, David A. Straz, Jr. and Mike Suarez.

None responded to emails sent this weekend.

With a law firm specifically, Turanchik said he fears neighborhood voters will be upset at the possibility candidates could meet en masse with developers and potentially make promises on potential projects.

But in the future, there could similarly be problems at neighborhood-sponsored events where candidates make commitments to secure votes there.

He said he doesn’t object to ticketed events. “These events can be expensive to do,” he said.

“If this event was open to the press, I would go,” he said of the coming forum. “As long as the public has a view to what’s going on.”

HD 70 candidate Vito Sheeley fined for sloppy financial records

State House candidate Vito Sheeley this month got slapped with a fine from the Division of Elections for sloppy financial reporting.

The St. Petersburg Democrat blamed the issue on a transition to a new campaign treasurer but doesn’t believe the hiccup will deter his attempt to defeat incumbent state Rep. Wengay Newton this month in state House District 70.

“I was going through a situation where a new treasurer wasn’t up to date on what to file,” Sheeley told Florida Politics. “We needed to get through that, got help on that end, and once the information was updated and ready to go, that was that.”

On Aug. 1, Bureau of Election Records Chief Kristi Reid Willis sent a letter outlining that records due to the state on July 13 did not get filed until July 30. Sheeley was fined $748.45, a levy he must pay from personal funds and not his campaign account.

A report filed with the state shows Sheeley appointed a new treasurer, Sharon Janis, on July 26.

Newton said voters should take note of the oversight.

“Somebody wants to represent you in Tallahassee with $88.7 billion in taxpayer resources and money,” Newton said, “but he can’t even keep a campaign account straight.”

Newton also noted Sheeley earned previous scolds from state elections officers. Warning letters from the state note he failed to file reports or waivers on time in May, June and July. In some cases he was told in writing the oversight would be ignored because he didn’t raise resources, but files later showed he did raise money in the corresponding time frames.

All that results in a lack of transparency for voters who want to see the source of campaign donations, Newton said.

But Sheeley said the major campaign donation issue voters care about isn’t financial paperwork but where candidates get their money, and on that front Newton should face harsher judgment.

“The incumbent is the one who claimed to be a Democrat and who blames not being successful in representing the district on Republicans, but he continues to take money from Republicans,” Sheeley said on Newton.

Newton surprised many when he supported Republican Rick Baker in the last race for St. Petersburg Mayor, a decision that still draws Democratic dings.

Of course, Newton points to other parts of Sheeley’s financial reports to suggest the race is primarily a vendetta. Sheeley earned more than $23,000 working for Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman’s successful race to keep the seat.

“He’s telling everybody he’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do, but he’s a hired gun,” Newton said.

Newton has raised about $64,000, compared to more than $22,000 raised by Sheeley. Keisha Bell, a third Democrat running for the seat, has raised more than $11,000.

The race will be decided in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. Because every candidate is a member of the same political party, all voters will be able to vote in the primary.

Ross Spano vows to protect ‘American Dream’ in first CD 15 ad

Dover state Rep. Ross Spano has started running his first TV ad in the race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, pitching himself as a candidate who will fight to keep the American Dream “alive and well.”

The ad, titled “American Dream,” sees the Hillsborough County Republican touch on that concept before rattling off a litany of outside attacks against it.

“My dad taught me that if you work hard, honor God and treat people right, you can succeed. That’s our American Dream,” Spano says in the ad.

Then a record scratch hits and the ad flashes between images of some of the most disliked politicians, pundits and groups among Republican circles: U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a man who appears to be a member of the “Antifa” movement and comedian Kathy Griffin.

“But now career politicians, special interests and liberals are working to kill that dream, attacking our rights and increasingly our values. I’ll fight back for you in Congress, so the American Dream is alive and well for the next generation,” Spano says.

The Spano campaign said the ad launch is backed up by a digital buy and a TV buy that’ll put it on the airwaves throughout CD 15, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties. Federal Communications Commission filings indicate the initial media buy runs through Aug. 19.

Spano is one of five Republicans running for CD 15, which is open this cycle due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

He faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the Aug. 28 primary election.

A new poll from SCG shows Combee with a double-digit lead among primary voters, however a St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed Spano, the fundraising leader on the GOP side, up big in the five-way race.

Spano’s campaign mentioned his polling position in the ad announcement, saying “as early voting begins in most of the District next week, a succession of three publicly commissioned polls all show Spano with a lead over the rest of the Republican candidates in the field.”

The winner of the Republican nomination will go up against one of three Democrats: Kristen Carlson, Andrew Learned or Ray Pena.

CD 15 voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.”

Spano’s ad is below:

More stormy weather for Jim Van Fleet, ‘bartering’ legal bills on WTSP suit

After a stalled effort to sue his employer, former 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Jim Van Fleet faces another legal storm, attempting to “barter” payment of his legal bills.

Van Fleet, 43, served as chief at WTSP-Channel 10 in St. Petersburg from 2011-2016. He currently works as the chief meteorologist for Royal Caribbean International.

In 2016, Van Fleet sued WTSP, accusing the station of planting false rumors of drug use and other misbehavior, which he called a “conspiracy to oust him from his job.” Tampa-based Solomon Law attorneys Stanford Solomon and Gabriel Pinilla represented him — billing Van Fleet at $500/hour.

According to a July 30 lawsuit filed by Solomon Law in Hillsborough County, Van Fleet told the firm that he couldn’t afford to pay them quickly — first promising $500 a month, then lowering it to $300 — because Royal Caribbean paid him $55,000 less per year than what he made at WTSP.

Now living in Miami, Van Fleet claimed rents are higher there than in the Tampa Bay area.

However, according to the court records, Solomon points out that there were some months when Van Fleet didn’t pay a dime.

Documents attached to the filing show Van Fleet urged Solomon to accept “in-kind payments” in lieu of cash.

For example, Van Fleet suggested he could help the firm grow its client base — and counteract negative online reviews — by publicly endorsing the firm, in exchange for an 80 percent reduction of his balance.

Van Fleet also claimed people would naturally think Solomon helped him win a big settlement, despite neither winning nor losing his case against WTSP. Records show Van Fleet dismissed the case on Sept. 20, 2017. He also offered to help repay his debt by becoming an expert witness — for free — on meteorological issues.

Stanford Solomon rejected each suggestion: “I just want you to pay the outstanding g [sic] invoices as you keep promising to do. I am not interested in barter.”

In an April 2018 email, Van Fleet then offered to pay Solomon back at the reduced rate of $300/month.

“I paid $1,000 last month and quite surprisingly got a very nasty email in return,” he wrote. “I shouldn’t have been surprised though given all the reviews and feedback regarding Sandy and warning to stay far away.”

In 2015, Van Fleet’s landlord sued him and girlfriend Kenlie Reed in Pinellas County for unpaid rent.

According to an online docket for Van Fleet’s divorce case, ex-wife Gillian Van Fleet is still trying to get him to make court-ordered payments. The couple split in 2010.

Solomon Law says the weatherman owes $57,931 in legal fees, plus 12 percent annual interest. It is seeking payment.

Poll puts Neil Combee up big in CD 15 primary

A new poll shows former state Rep. Neil Combee has a monster lead in the primary contest for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The Strategic Government Consulting poll, conducted Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, the Auburndale Republican is the pick for 31 percent of primary voters while Dover state Rep. Ross Spano, who had a double-digit lead in an early July measure from St. Pete Polls, is in a distant second place with 17 percent support.

The other three GOP contenders — Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker — showed up in the low single digits.

Despite the strong showing for Combee, two-fifths of Republican voters said they were still undecided three weeks out from the Aug. 28 primary election.

One thing voters were in near universal agreement on was their love of President Donald Trump. According to the poll, a full 87 percent of Republican primary voters in the district gave the president a positive assessment, including nearly three-quarters who said they “strongly approved” of him. Just 10 percent said they disapproved of him 19-months into his presidency.

Interestingly, voters were also asked whether they would vote for Trump’s preferred candidate come Election Day. Voters answered that question in the affirmative by a 58-12 margin, with 30 percent saying a presidential nod would not sway them one way or the other.

Though Trump has weighed in on the Governor’s race and a couple congressional races, he hasn’t issued an endorsement in CD 15. If he were to do so, however, Combee would be the likely recipient considering he gave up his seat in the state House last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district, which voted for Trump by double digits two years ago, is open in 2018 due to the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Though previously considered a Republican lock, the lack of an incumbent combined with strong fundraising by Democratic candidates Kristen Carlson and Andrew Learned have caused political handicappers to shift their assessments of the seat from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

SCG automated phone poll collected 508 responses from likely Republican voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.


CD 15 Republican Primary poll by Andrew Wilson on Scribd

Poll shows Bob Buckhorn’s popularity makes compelling case for Lt. Gov. pick

It seems like an eternity since Bob Buckhorn ended speculation that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, but the popular two-term Tampa Mayor could very well end up spending the next four or eight years in Tallahassee.

According to a new poll conducted by ClearView Research, Buckhorn is still wildly popular among Tampa voters, making him a top-tier contender to join the Democratic gubernatorial nominee as their Lieutenant Governor pick on the November ballot.

The poll, conducted in May, found no evidence of “Buckhorn fatigue” among Tampanians. More than three quarters of respondents said they had a positive view of the 60-year-old politician more than seven years into his reign at City Hall. Of those, 36 percent said they saw Buckhorn as “very favorable.”

The rest of the crowd weren’t too down on him. Just 7 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” impression of Buckhorn, while 5 percent were resolute in their dislike. The remainder, per the poll, were either unsure or refused to answer the question.

Of course, those numbers could shift in the current sharply divided political climate. It’s no secret that Buckhorn is a Democrat, but Tampa Mayor is a non-partisan office and no voter saw a “D” next to his name on the ballot in either 2011, when he won the job with 63 percent of the vote, or 2015, when he was re-elected with 96 percent support.

Buckhorn has his detractors, and while most attacks have rolled off him like water off a duck’s back during his time as mayor, their attacks would be magnified if his name was on the statewide ballot. Think the Koch brothers-backed blasts on Buckhorn’s involvement in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal.

Still, would adding Buckhorn to the ticket help the Democratic gubernatorial nominee? It’s not unlikely.

Hillsborough County is among the most important in any statewide election. It has accounted for about 6 percent of the state wide vote in the last four general elections, but despite voting plus-7 for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election and for Hillary Clinton by the same margin two years ago, the county has been much tighter in the past two gubernatorial races.

Charlie Crist won Hillsborough by a slim 48-46 margin when he ran for his old job as a Democrat in 2014, which was a downgrade from Alex Sink’s 50-47 performance in the county four years prior.

Take Buckhorn’s ubiquity in Tampa politics and his popularity and toss in the fact that Nov. 6 is shaping up to be a showdown between a loyal Donald Trump Republican and a Democrat — be it current poll leader Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene or Philip Levine — that has vowed firm opposition to the president.

That’s a recipe for running up the score in Tampa Bay.

But does Buckhorn even want to be Lieutenant Governor? It’s a largely ceremonial position that has no real assigned duties unless, per the Florida Constitution, the Governor doles them out.

That remains to be seen. Few believe he’ll sit on the sidelines after his term runs out in the spring, and rumors indicate he’s actively gunning for the job.

The ClearView Research poll was conducted May 1 through May 10 and took responses from 301 Tampa voters via live phone interviews, 38 percent of whom were reached by cell phone. The sample was balanced by gender, race, age, and party in order for our distribution to be consistent and similar to the actual voting population.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.64 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Sketchy stroll: State House candidate filmed nabbing opponent’s flyers

The Republican primary race for Pinellas County’s House District 69 has taken an odd turn.

A supporter of Madeira Beach attorney Ray Blacklidge was out canvassing Monday when he and other volunteers noticed something fishy going on — the flyers they were leaving at front doors were going missing, only to be replaced by materials backing the campaign of Blacklidge’s primary opponent, St. Petersburg attorney Jeremy Bailie.

The canvasser had noticed Bailie was on the same route, and after finishing his knock list, he decided to do some recon by doubling back and ducking in some bushes, smartphone in hand. His espionage bore fruit — Bailie himself was pulling a door-to-door switcheroo.

On Tuesday, a video of the dirty deed was posted to Facebook and YouTube, where it has since garnered more than 3,300 views. In a comment on that Facebook post, the man who captured the video said this wasn’t the first time Blacklidge’s campaign materials had gone missing.

“Mr. Blacklidge has and had been told by multiple supporters that his yard signs and pamphlets keep ‘disappearing’ from their yards after Bailie workers walked the area after our own team,” said Dylan Kirkhart, later adding that “It’s just a loathsome and disreputable act that can’t be justified under any circumstance.”

Prior to witnessing Bailie doing the snatching, Kirkhart said Team Blacklidge had chalked up the lossage to immature volunteer workers rather than the candidate himself.

Though they only caught one of the swaps on video, Kirkhart and other volunteers shadowed Bailie without confronting him and estimate that he pulled the same stunt around 50 times during the walk.

Blacklidge said he reported Bailie to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for stealing the flyers, though it’s unclear what law was broken. Under Florida law, taking a campaign yard sign is considered theft, with the severity of the charge tied to the cost of the sign. Unlike the flyers, which were left at unattended homes, campaign signs are placed with the permission of the property owner, often on request.

Bailie, 27, responded to the allegations in a brief interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

“First of all, I want to apologize to my opponent and to everyone else. I called Ray to apologize,” he said. “We were out knocking doors for hours. It’s been a long campaign and I made a mistake. I’m sorry and I apologize to Ray and I promise it won’t happen again.”

While Bailie may not make the same mistake again, such antics aren’t uncommon during the silly season that precedes Florida elections. Recall earlier this year that a video posted by Cocoa Mayor and House District 51 candidate Henry Parrish showed a supporter of his opponent pulling up and flinging a campaign sign as if it were a frisbee.

Blacklidge and Bailie will go head-to-head in the Aug. 28 primary election, with the winner moving on to face Democratic nominee Jennifer Webb on the November ballot. The seat is currently held by third-term Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters, who is running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission rather than re-election.

HD 69 covers part of southern Pinellas County including coastal communities from Redington shores southward as well as a piece of mainland Pinellas.

The video is below.

Andrew Learned says ‘dark money’ fueling Kristen Carlson’s CD 15 bid

Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned attacked his primary opponent in Florida’s 15th Congressional District on Wednesday over recent spending by a so-called “dark money” group.

The Learned campaign pointed to recent Federal Elections Commission filings showing that a super PAC by the name of “REINVESTING IN AMERICA” had tossed $19,487 to Washington-based Resonance Campaigns for a data file and a direct mail campaign in support of Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson.

Resonance Campaigns says it creates “direct mail and digital content for labor unions, Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.” The shop’s website shows off work completed for public employee union AFSCME, labor union SEIU and a Democratic state senator in Virginia, among other clients.

REINVESTING IN AMERICA, however, is a little more secretive about its work.

Documents available on the FEC website show the committee was opened in mid-July by Lauren E. Leonard, a former federal employee who most recently worked as the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama Administration.

The committee has not yet filed a finance report, though the spending reports it has turned in indicate it has also spent about $75,000 on direct mail campaigns backing Detroit Democrat Haley Stevens, a former Obama Administration official who on Tuesday won the primary for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

The Learned campaign said the lack of transparency in who is funding REINVESTING IN AMERICA is troubling while also hitting Carlson for past campaign contributions to Republican politicians, most recently a $50 check to Bartow Republican Jennifer Spath, who lost the special primary for House District 39.

“Dark money is coming in at the last minute to help Carlson, after she wrote thousands of dollars in checks to Republicans,” said campaign manager Jaden Slagle. “There is no place for this in the Democratic Party. This is shameful and Kristen Carlson needs to disavow this group.”

Learned’s team then reiterated the candidate’s vow to not accept contributions from corporate PACs and to end Citizens United.

While that commitment is becoming more common among Democratic politicians, it’s important to note that independent expenditures — what REINVESTING IN AMERICA’s spending is classified as — must be made without consulting or communicating with candidates, otherwise such expenditures are considered campaign contributions and subject to limitations.

Carlson and Learned are running alongside Ray Pena in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for CD 15, which is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face one of five Republicans, likely Dover state Rep. Ross Spano or former Auburndale Rep. Neil Combee, in the Nov. 6 general election.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a Republican lock, but the combination of Ross’ retirement and strong fundraising numbers from the Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough transit tax push will be on November ballot

For Hillsborough County voters, the choice on at least one ballot issue in November will be simple to decide: Are they willing to pay one more cent per dollar on their sales tax, or is being stuck in traffic every day something they enjoy?

Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer announced Wednesday afternoon that the All For Transportation push has gathered more than the required number of petition signatures to see if voters want to amend the county charter in a major move to address Hillsborough’s increasing traffic quagmire.

That’s something their county commissioners wouldn’t allow voters to do in 2016 when they declined to allow a similar push called Go Hillsborough on the ballot.


Because anti-tax people screamed and the commissioners caved.

This one is out of their hands, though.

The people behind this push have ranged from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, civic icon Frank Morsani, to just lots of everyday folks who helped gather, organize or sign petitions.

It seemed like a longshot when the petition drive was announced just a couple of months ago. But volunteers canvassed the area and got more than 50,000 valid signatures, comfortably more than was needed to get this on the ballot.

We’re kind of like the frog in the boiling pot in this county when it comes to transportation. It has gradually gotten much worse over the years as more people moved here and more cars fought for space on the roads. But people just put up with it because there really hasn’t been much of an alternative, until it dawned on enough people that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The anti-tax crowd will decry anything that brings a lot of money into government as a boondoggle before they ever get a chance to see the results. If approved, the 30-year tax is expected to generate $280 million in the first year alone.

That money will get divided among the transportation agency HART, plus the cities of Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, and the county. The idea is to dramatically improve bus service, make needed road repairs, bicycle lanes, and so on.

There is no mention in the plans of a mass transit system that would include rail or something similar. That won’t stop opponents from screaming RAIL at the top of their nay-saying lungs.

They have been successful so far in stopping most attempts in the Bay area to address transportation through tax hikes, so I would imagine the All For Transportation folks know this is just the beginning.

They’ll have about three months to convince voters the need for major transportation upgrades can’t be solved with band-aids and toll roads. Every part of Hillsborough County has stories of traffic nightmares to share.

So, here we go again.

Opponents will be ready. All For Transporation says it will be ready.

Everybody makes their case, and then the voters choose.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Ross Spano

Family Research Council backs Ross Spano for CD 15

The political arm of the Family Research Council announced Wednesday that it’s backing Dover state Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign for Congress.

Spano, currently in his third term representing Hillsborough County’s HD 59, is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. When it comes to championing “individual liberties” and “strong family values,” FRC Action PAC said Spano was the top pick.

“As a native Floridian, you have a unique understanding of the issues facing your district and the values important to your constituents. As a small businessman, you have been an advocate for family-friendly tax reform,” FRC Action PAC executive vice president William Boykin wrote in an endorsement letter.

“You have also demonstrated a strong commitment to life, family, and religious freedom, championing religious freedom by voting to protect churches and adoption agencies from being forced to provide services that might violate their deeply held religious convictions,” he continued.

The Family Research Council is a staunchly Christian conservative group that takes hard line stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and is in favor of increasing the role of Christianity in public life. In addition to endorsements U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi and numerous other Republican politicians, Spano has received the recommendation of another pro-life group, Florida Right to Life.

“I could not be more honored to receive this endorsement from an organization that prioritizes the protection of our shared Conservative values,” Spano said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing this fight on behalf of the constituents in CD15.”

Spano faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the primary race. A St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed him in the lead with nearly 32 percent support.

Spano also leads the primary field in fundraising with $157,068 raised including loans through the end of the second quarter. He had $108,275 banked and $88,025 in campaign debt at the end of that reporting period.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race — with the help of self-funding, Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson topped the field with nearly $250,000 raised in Q2, while Andrew Learned has raised $223,618 since filing for the seat prior to Ross’ announcement.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

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