History was made this week in Alexandria.

Our top story was on Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, defeating former Mayor Allison Silberberg. Alexandria historically votes for democratic mayors, and Wilson faces off against Republican candidate Annetta Catchings in November.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker also unseated Del. Mark Levine for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 45th District seat in the House of Delegates. Levine also lost his bid for lieutenant governor.

The three incumbents running for City Council all made it through the primary, with City Councilman John Taylor Chapman receiving the most votes. The other candidates who made it, and will move on to the general election in November are Alyia Smith-Parker Gaskins, Councilwoman Amy Jackson, Councilman Canek Aguirre, Sarah Bagley and Kirk McPike.

This Saturday is will also see the final graduating class of T.C. Williams High School walk the stage before the school’s name is changed in July to Alexandria City High School.

Next Sunday is also Father’s Day, and a number of Alexandria businesses are offering unique specials.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Wilson wins Democratic mayoral primary, Silberberg concedes
  2. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown puts in his notice
  3. A rare glimpse inside Alexandria’s abandoned and overgrown GenOn power plant
  4. BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District race, Levine loses Delegate and Lieutenant Governor races
  5. Pride flags torn down outside City Hall and thrown into fountain at Market Square
  6. Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown isn’t just retiring, he’s leaving the city altogether
  7. BREAKING: Incumbents hold on in Alexandria City Council Democratic primary
  8. Three incumbents and lots of newcomers running for Alexandria School Board this November
  9. Here’s how much it would cost to reverse the Seminary Road Diet
  10. Democratic primary settled in Alexandria, but underlying issues linger
  11. Critical Missing Person Alert issued for 13-year-old autistic boy

Have a safe weekend!

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Last night was a rout for a vocal contingent of Alexandrians pushing for a change in city leadership, but both top dogs in the local Democratic party and their opposition say the fight isn’t over.

At Los Tios Grill in Del Ray, former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg told enthusiastic supporters that conversations over issues like the Seminary Road Diet and Taylor Run Stream restoration project would continue, although the candidates who put those issues at the forefronts of their campaigns lost.

Silberberg said that her supporters should join boards and commissions and join their civic associations, continue speaking out and working on changing the city from within.

“This is a democracy,” Silberberg said. “All voices need to be heard. I remain dedicated to those causes and getting things done, and I encourage people to stay involved.”

On the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group, a page that had been a social gathering place for locals frustrated with city leadership, the reaction was dour, with members calling the results “depressing” or blaming the outcome on outside influences in local politics.

In terms of voting precincts, Silberberg won City Hall and a handful of the more residential areas in the center of the city, like around Seminary Hill, but Wilson won the more densely urban West End, Old Town, and Del Ray.

The election saw 23% of registered voters show up to the polls — a relatively high voter turnout rate for a non-Presidential election year.

Clarence Tong, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, said the high number of candidates — 13 candidates in the Democratic primary for six seats — was likely one of the reasons for the high turnout, and that last night’s results were an endorsement for the leadership of Wilson and the incumbent City Council.

“Yesterday we experienced high primary turnout in Alexandria. this was a reflection of the high quality of the democratic statewide and local candidates on the ballot, likely the largest number in our history,” Tong said. “The great thing about the Democratic Party is the broad range of experiences and perspective from our candidates.”

Tong said that many of the issues debated during the campaign will likely continue to be debated after the election.

“I would fully expect the policy issues that were debated during the Council primary to continue in other public forums,” he said.

Photo via Alexandria Democratic Committee/Facebook

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(Updated 11 p.m.) Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson defeated his political rival, former Mayor Allison Silberberg, in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary.

“Thank you Alexandria,” Wilson said at Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray. “When the voters of Alexandrians get a choice between a list of things that they are against and a positive vision for the future for our city, they choose the positive vision of the future every single day of the week.”

Wilson dedicated his campaign to his mother in-law Diane Crawford-Batt, who passed away last week.

Silberberg conceded at 9:15 p.m. in a phone call to Wilson, who tweeted his thanks.

Silberberg raised a considerable amount of campaign funding, and much of it was left unspent. As of June 1, she raised $126,688 and had $55,477 in the bank. Not so for Wilson, who raised $169,257 and had just $30,583 left.

Wilson received 10,817 votes, or 56.74% of the vote to Silberberg’s 8,247 votes, or 43.26%, with 25 of 31 precincts counted. he said that politics over the past several years has gotten coarser, with more personal attacks against legislators on social media.

“It should not be that way,” Wilson said. “It does not have to be that way… We all have to be better. We have to create a better politics in the city.”

The 42-year-old Wilson is married with two children and lives in Del Ray. For his day job, he is a senior manager for Amtrak. He was elected in a special election to Council in 2007 after the resignation of then-Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald. He lost reelection in 2009, was elected in 2012 and was elected as Vice Mayor in 2015.

Wilson defeated Silberberg by 1,259 votes in the June 2018 primary, and received 11, 442 votes, or 52.91 percent, to Silberberg’s 10,183 votes, or 47.09 percent. Wilson was vice mayor under Silberberg, who was vice mayor herself for a single term before winning a dramatic three-way primary between former Mayors Bill Euille and Kerry Donley in 2015. Her tenure was marked by lone 6-1 votes, where she and council did not meet eye to eye. Much of the opposition during her mayorship was led by Wilson.

“We fought a very good fight,” Silberberg said. “We had tremendous turnout. We raised a lot of issues that are important to people all across our city… The issues go on. We have a lot at stake, at least in decisions like Seminary Road where there’s no transparency or the slaughter house or housing at school properties. Fighting the good fight to make sure there’s no more flooding. Regardless of that, it’s a heartfelt congratulations. The dream goes on.”

Silberberg ran on a platform of greater transparency in government, “smart” development, environmental sustainability, and against the Seminary Road Diet.

Wilson now faces off against Republican Annetta Catchings in November.

Vernon Miles contributed to this story

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What a week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story was on President Joe Biden stopping by the Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria last Friday with First Lady Jill Biden and Governor Ralph Northam.

Seeing the president around town is getting to be a regular thing. The president, who also visited in April, discussed “the state’s progress against the coronavirus pandemic” and the celebration of “summer as Virginia lifts all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions.”

This week, we also followed up on a New York Times report about the Virginia Theological Seminary making reparations payments to slavery descendants. The program was launched in 2019, and the school issued $2,100 in annual payments to 15 families in February.

On Wednesday, the Fire Department released its restructuring plan, which goes into effect June 12, and is intended to help emergency response times by shifting resources. AFD will conduct community conversations on the restructuring on Saturday, June 5, at 10 a.m.; Monday, June 7, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m.

Closing the short workweek, on Friday Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown announced that his retirement. Brown’s last day is June 25, and the City Manager is soon expected to name an acting chief to lead the department while the city’s undergoes a national search for a permanent replacement.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. UPDATED: President Biden and Gov. Northam visited Alexandria this morning
  2. JUST IN: Virginia State Police chase U-Haul pickup truck through Alexandria
  3. Bennett-Parker says Levine mailer on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead is ethics breach
  4. Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats opens in Old Town
  5. Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen closes for the foreseeable future in Old Town North
  6. Volunteers needed this weekend to help clear dangerous stretch of Mount Vernon Trail
  7. Wilson and Silberberg mayoral debate finale opens possibility of ‘tweaking’ Seminary Road Diet
  8. Homegrown Restaurant Group gives employees raise to $15 an hour, will ease COVID restrictions at 6 restaurants
  9. ‘Rock It Grill’ eyeing karaoke expansion, bringing back Halloween party
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Ownership of Landmark’s streets could make a big difference down the road

Photo via White House/Twitter

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The June 8 Democratic primary is next Tuesday, and the latest fundraising totals show that Mayor Justin Wilson has still outraised his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg.

Kirk McPike is also continuing to lead financially among City Council candidates.

Below are fundraising totals for the Democratic candidates from the Virginia Public Access Project, as of June 1, 2021.

Mayoral race

Mayor Justin Wilson

  • Raised — $169,257
  • Balance — $30,583

Former Mayor Allison Silberberg

  • Raised — $126,688
  • Balance — $55,477

Council race

Kirk McPike

  • Raised — $87,853
  • Balance — $15,951

Alyia Gaskins

  • Raised — $77,667
  • Balance — $9,153

John Taylor Chapman 

  • Raised — $74,957
  • Balance — $58,282

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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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The Seminary Road Diet took center stage Tuesday night, as City Council candidates met in the first of three West End forums.

City Council candidates Canek Aguirre (incumbent), Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike, Patrick Moran and Sarah Bagley were the first batch of candidates to speak at the Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forum.

The group was first questioned on the role of civic associations in policymaking discussions, since 13 civic associations were opposed to the road diet, which was approved in a 4-3 Council vote in 2019.

Aguirre voted for the road diet, and said that the opinions of the civic associations were taken into consideration at the time.

“I don’t think that the civic associations were ignored,” Aguirre said. “We listened, we disagreed and that showed in our vote… I want us to be able to get back to a place where we can be able to disagree in a civil way.”

All the candidates said that civic associations are important, as are the recommendations from the city’s board and commissions.

McPike said that, if elected, he intends to conduct regular town halls across the city, and to work with civic associations to participate.

“It’s important that we’re hearing from a wide range of opinions and the civic associations can be channels by which to bring that input into our policymaking process,” McPike said. “The next council has to be ready to help the city fully recover from the effects of this difficult year. And I believe in my time working on city Commission’s and my legislative skills from Capitol Hill will enable me to hit the ground running on day one, to help the city do exactly that.”

Moran previously said that he would vote to reverse the road diet if elected, while Gaskins said that she would not reverse it and that funds could be better spent elsewhere.

Most candidates were opposed to the idea of colocating affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, but none want to back an ordinance preventing it from happening.

“We have to look at everything that’s on the table,” Aguirre said. “If it’s an argument around safety, then I fundamentally reject that argument, because when you look at the schools that we have today in Alexandria, you literally have schools that are across the street from million dollar homes and from public housing. If you don’t believe me, come take a trip with me. I’ll take you around the different schools and show you.”

Bagley, who runs an affordable housing nonprofit in D.C., said that schools need to be left alone.

“We have a shortage of capacity for schools themselves and for classrooms and recreational spaces and pools and all those issues,” Bagley said. “While I think we have many other more pressing ways to use our city on spaces, I would not push for a permanent bar to consider it in an architectural consideration.”

Moran only wants colocation of housing for teachers at ACPS.

“Alexandria’s average starting pay for teachers is $56,000,” Moran said. “That’s not enough to live in our city…. I don’t think we ought to be looking at housing for any other types of scenarios to meet our housing goals. I think that we can find solutions alternatively for that, but for teachers, yes.”

The second forum will air at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, May 20, and feature candidates Bill Campbell, John Taylor Chapman, Darryl Nirenberg, Bill Rossello and Meronne Teklu; followed by the final Council candidate forum on Monday, May 24, with Kevin Harris, Amy Jackson, Jim Lewis, Florence King and Mark Shiffer.

The mayoral forum between Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

Early voting has already started, and the Democratic primary is June 8.

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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Both figuratively and literally, last night’s mayoral debate brought brought longtime rivals Justin Wilson and Allison Silberberg back to their old turf.

The Del Ray Business Association debate touched on new issues, like recovery from pandemic, but some of the more telling moments were when host Julie Carey reopened old wounds from 2018 that had never healed. The debate also focused on several issues around Del Ray, where Mayor Wilson began his civic career and where former Mayor Silberberg frequently hosted many of her campaign kick-offs and rallies.

Looking at pandemic recovery for the next year, both Wilson and Silberberg emphasized continued flexibility for local businesses. Wilson said Alexandria was one of the first to adjust its regulations on outdoor dining and other restrictions to help restaurants adapt.

“[Some of that] is going to need to remain,” Wilson said. “We’re not going to immediately come out of this. It’s not going to be a light switch.”

Wilson said the priority will have to be on getting hospitality and consumption-based businesses back, as well as shifting tourism to focus on attracting more regional visitors to Alexandria rather than going after nation-wide audiences.

In particular, Wilson pointed to his work with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in lobbying to allow carry-out cocktails. Wilson also said that he and City Council member John Chapman had proposed the closure of the 100 block of King Street before the pandemic, which went into effect when the pandemic started.

Now Wilson is hoping to expand that closure to include the 200 block of King Street for a pedestrian zone from the waterfront to Market Square — right outside City Hall.

Silberberg said her priorities as mayor would be forming a summit to talk with business leaders and identify their needs, reduce the BPOL tax, and suspend parking meters for a year to encourage more access to local businesses.

“This first year is going to be really critical,” Silberberg said.

While Wilson championed the flexibility the city offered local businesses, Silberberg said the reality on the ground for many of those businesses — naming the business losses in the Bradlee Shopping Center in particular — is that the city could have done more. Wilson noted that the shopping center is a private shopping centre and received the same flexibility as the rest of the city, but Silberberg said the city should have taken a more hands-on approach to guide businesses towards the resources they needed.

“Yes, it’s private, but encouraging them to work with us would have helped,” Silberberg said. “Atlantis, 38 years in business, just closed because they couldn’t open out front. Working with that property owner would have helped.”

The two also briefly clashed over accessory dwelling units. Wilson said that the city’s zoning laws do not allow people like the fictional characters The Golden Girls to live together in Alexandria. Wilson said the current zoning was overly prescriptive in regard to traditional families, while Silberberg said it would be possible for the charming older ladies to reside under existing ordinances.

Wilson also raised the topic of using federal funding to kick-start business improvement districts (BID) — organizations aimed at addressing business needs and promoting active uses and events to commercial districts. BIDs are another controversial idea with a storied history in Alexandria. After several attempts at getting launched, the idea of setting up a BID in Old Town was scrapped in 2017 when it became unclear whether a majority of businesses within the district supported the idea.

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Morning Notes

Fuel shortage hits Alexandria gas stations — “A Shell station on Duke Street in Alexandria had run out of all grades of gasoline. The Mobil station next door “got lucky,” an employee said, and received a shipment of fuel overnight after running out late Tuesday. The line at Mobil spilled out onto Duke Street just west of Telegraph Road.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria’s COVID-19 percent positivity falls to lowest level — “We continue to watch the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests. Alexandria’s 7-day average positivity is now 2.9%. This is our lowest rate ever. Only 3 other Virginia health districts are lower. Wear your mask, get your vaccine and let’s be done with this.” [Twitter]

Goodie’s Frozen Custard opening by Memorial Day in Old Town — “Something cool is about to open at 200 Commerce St. in Old Town Alexandria. Real cool. Frozen, even. A cute little building that once stored blocks of ice has been transformed into a frozen custard shop called Goodies.”[Washington Post]

Silberberg says Potomac Riverkeeper quote on mailer not intended as endorsement — “My mailer about the environment has a quote from Dean Naujoks, the Potomac Riverkeeper,” former Mayor Allison Silberberg told ALXnow. “It is not an endorsement. It is his personal opinion. It is clearly marked as such. On the other side of my mailer is an endorsement by Andrew Macdonald from the Environmental Council of Alexandria. Dean’s quote is his opinion. If it had been an endorsement, it would have been marked as such.” [ALXnow]

Colasanto Pool redesigns released ahead of meeting — “One week ago, The Zebra Press reported that Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities is seeking community input on the redesign of Colasanto Pool at 2700 Mt. Vernon Ave. Ahead of the May 13 virtual meeting, the Del Ray Gateway Project has released the three proposed designs.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Except for a few afternoon clouds, mainly sunny. High around 70F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 47F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Game master — “Have you been called a Brainiac or know it all? Are you a D&D Game Master? Come be a Game Master at ERL where we bring the action to life! Escape Room Live is looking for highly intelligent, energetic, quick learners that enjoy problem-solving, are masters in their class, and current college grads. If this is you, then we have the job for you! Now hiring for part-time full-time candidates with flexible hours, weekend availability is preferred. Highly competitive pay rates up to $11 Hourly.” [Indeed]

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