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WGBH debate transcript

EMILY ROONEY, HOST OF WGBH-TV'S GREATER BOSTON: Good evening. Welcome to a special edition of "Greater Boston," as we host the three Democratic candidates for governor. For the next half hour, we will have an open discussion on the issues of today. There will be no stopwatches, but we'll try to give everyone an equal opportunity to speak.

Joining me are the candidates, Attorney General Tom Reilly, businessman Chris Gabrieli, and attorney Deval Patrick. And welcome to all of you. It's a pleasure to have you here.

All: Great to be here. Thank you for having us.

ROONEY: Great. Let's get right to it. Attorney General Tom Reilly, you have said recently that it is not your obligation to go after employers who hire undocumented, illegal workers. But what if it's a state contractor who's hiring those people? Why isn't it your obligation?

REILLY: Well, there's a very important national debate that is going on and people realize that this whole debate over immigration has to be resolved on a national level. Five years ago, I made a decision, which is what you do as attorney general. We were facing a situation with the exploitation of workers, all kinds of workers, and the - not just illegals, but depressing wages in the workplace. And we decided to go after that, but you need witnesses to build cases. So we built those cases, and we were very successful in terms of going after employers who hired illegal immigrants in the workplace, and also depressed wages for all workers. That was the decision that was made back then, five years ago, and I think it was the right -

ROONEY: What about now?

REILLY: I think it was the right decision to make then and -

ROONEY: Martha Coakley, who's running for your office, thinks -

REILLY: -- and I think it's the right decision - you know, sometimes you have to stand into the wind and you have to take the - now, politics.

No one had a problem with that five years ago. Now it's a political football back and forth. At the end of the day, not only am I doing my job, but I agree with people like Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy, and even Governor Romney. I don't always agree with him, but I agree with him on this. This requires a national solution. This is a leadership question. I made that decision five years ago, and I certainly stand by that decision.

It was to deal with those employers that were exploiting workers. We've recovered over $17 million over those last five years, so it's been very successful. But you need witnesses to go after cases, and that's what we did.

ROONEY: OK. Chris Gabrieli, you've taken a really hard line on illegal immigrants. Tom Reilly's position is really the humanitarian one. But look at your own situation. Your parents, first-generation immigrants from Hungary. They might not make it here today. Would you appreciate the fact that you, as governor, might have state troopers arresting them for being undocumented? Would you support that?

GABRIELI: I don't think I've taken a hard line. I think I've taken the reasonable, common sense view. There's legal and illegal. And when it comes to illegal immigrants, yeah, I think we have laws. I think citizenship should have meaning. What's up - being discussed right now are employers who exploit illegal labor, in many cases from other parts of the country, not just from here, who have been thumbing their nose at the law. I mean, submitting a Social Security Number, as documented in the Globe, of 666-66-66 and saying, yeah, we checked our Social Security Numbers. I mean, that is laughing in the face of our laws. It is taking jobs from Americans, whether they're immigrants, legal immigrants, or citizens born here, taking jobs from them. These are good construction jobs. This is not the back of the kitchen type of work. And I think the fact that nobody in power wants to do anything about it is the kind of thing that I think frustrates citizenry about government. There's right and there's wrong -

ROONEY: Would you support Governor Romney's proposal to have state troopers arresting illegal immigrants?

GABRIELI: You know, I think he's four years into his administration. He's starting to do something about which he's talked a lot about, rhetoric. I don't think the focus, though, need be on the individuals. I think the focus needs to be on these employers, who are clearly exploiting these people. They're not paying them good health care benefits. They're not paying worker's comp in some cases. They're probably paying them under the table in some instances. We know who these employers are. Some of them laughed, essentially, in the face of the reporters in the Globe. And I think we should crack down on those employers.

ROONEY: Would you go after the employers?

PATRICK: Well, I think that's part of it, and I think, frankly, Tom is right, that it's not the attorney general's job, the Massachusetts attorney general's job, to enforce federal laws. But there are state laws, wage and hour laws, that are your responsibility, and the failure to enforce those laws have cost the state about $150 million year after year. I mean, the thing about immigration that strikes me is that it's become a crisis just in time for the election season. This issue has been around for some while because it's hard. It's complicated, and it's going to take sustained attention. I think McCain, Kennedy, the proposal in Congress, is a nice, appropriate, balanced approach, because it's both more resources for border control, and a path to citizenship for people who are here and living constructive and contributing lives. That's a start at the federal level.

At the state level, we've got to pay attention to enforcing our own wage and hour laws.

GABRIELI: And I do think, you're absolutely right to make this distinction that you just drew, Emily, between legal and illegal. And our discussion should be about what we do to take legal immigrants, of whom there are many in Massachusetts, and help them succeed. The think-tank I used to be chair of, MassInc, has been bringing this issue to attention for years. Why do we have long waiting lists for English as a Second Language, when we have legal immigrants who want to learn English at night after working probably a tough job all day, so that they can be better parents, make more money at work, be better citizens? That, I think, is where we should be putting our priority. That and enforcing against employers who'll exploit this and take state tax dollars and use it in the wrong way, in the case of what was illustrated in the Globe. I think those should be our priorities, and we should get about doing it. Let's get some results on this, not just election year rhetoric.

ROONEY: All right. Speaking of complex issues, the state pension plan.

Kerry Healey has proposed that we set up a 401K plan for state employees, and get rid of this pension plan. We see this state legislator now who opted out of it, and now he wants to get in because he's on his deathbed.

What do you think of that 401K plan?

PATRICK: Well, I understand it from having been in private industry.

That's where a lot of companies have moved to. I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense in government context today. I think, however, we do need pension reform, because there's entirely too much manipulation of the rules. The problem is not the pension system. It is that manipulation of the rules. And I'm sensitive to the issue that's been, the case that's been in the news recently. Representative Ruane. I'm sensitive to that. I understand that he is himself sick and aging, and his wife is -

ROONEY: He opted out.

PATRICK: -- is aging. But that's the issue, you see. And when legislators tell me that they feel that fellowship with one of their own, I say, well, fine.

ROONEY: Then why not -

PATRICK: Then organize together, then do a fundraiser.

ROONEY: Why not support the 401K plan?

PATRICK: But help him.

ROONEY: Because then, there would be choice here.

PATRICK: But my issue is the use of the public fisc to essentially favor a colleague. I don't think that's an appropriate use of pension funds. Now, the compromise that's on the table now, maybe that works, maybe it doesn't.

I'm not entirely sure it's enforceable. But the problem is that unless you have powerful connections, you can't get special dispensation from the legislature, and that's part of politics as usual, and we've got to change that.

ROONEY: Either of you support the 401 -

REILLY: I agree with Deval. If they want to help Representative Ruane, he made a decision to -

PATRICK: He made a judgment.

REILLY: They should have, and they should raise money privately. And they should lead by contributing to that fund and help the family. That's the way to deal with this thing. And I disagree with Chris. This is an issue. This is a very important issue, because sometimes you have to stand up to the legislature when they're wrong. And they are clearly wrong in going the direction that they're going in. There are abuses in the pension system. They have to be dealt with, and that's why I took on a challenge to President Bulger, when he went after and tried to - my God, what he tried to do with his pension with the housing allowance. That was extraordinary.

You have to stand up. That's part of leadership. That's part of being governor.

ROONEY: Chris, as a businessman, support Kerry Healey's idea?

GABRIELI: No, I don't. And the Ruane case is deathbed politics, a single person trying to politicize that. I think the issue is, Kerry Healey is proposing a sweeping change that would affect tens of thousands of people.

The average state retiree makes 22,000 bucks on their pension. Most of them are teachers, social workers, modestly paid people doing important work for our society. They don't pay into the social security system in most cases, so they don't have that safety net available to them. In fact, they do, ironically, what the Republicans are proposing, which is during their work career, their money is saved. Eleven percent, I believe - 9%, I believe, from teachers today, of their own money, put aside every year, which is what they get the payments back on over time. It is a defined benefit, but they're paying for it by their contributions so far. I think it's a good system. I think it's part of why we get good people in the public service.

We absolutely can crack down on the abuses and not punish the average state worker for the rest of their lives.

And I do find it ironic that, you know, you don't want to pick on people, but Reed Hillman's retiring on, what, $111,000 a year at 50 and says, that's a good system for me, but we should change it for the people behind us and for people who don't have that opportunity to get that kind of huge last three years, so they get a huge pension with that. I disagree. I think it's a step in the wrong direction.

ROONEY: All right. Speaking of money, Tom Reilly, you like to point out that you're the only non-millionaire in the race, but all of you came from humble beginnings. Chris's parents from Hungary, you from the South Side of Chicago, you locally. Isn't that something to celebrate rather than say, I'm the only ordinary guy, that two people who came from the same backgrounds were able to do that?

REILLY: I wasn't the one that set the spending limit at $15 million.

That was pretty extraordinary. At the end of the day, this election isn't going to be decided by how rich you are or what your financial means are.

It's going to be decided by, what's your experience? What's your experience? Do you have a proven record of getting things done? And I have, for a number of years for the people of Massachusetts. One million people in Harvard Pilgrim, their health insurance will say, that's real results for real people. Do you have a vision for Massachusetts that's focused on the future, building a better and stronger future for our children? And it is health care; it is the economy. It is improving public education all the way through public higher education. It is making health care more affordable, and doing something about the increase in - that's what's -

ROONEY: But can people relate to you, do you think, more because you are so-called ordinary, than to somebody who has a million dollars, even though they did it basically the old-fashioned way?

REILLY: I understand the problems. I live in a middle-class neighborhood, on the second floor of a two-decker in Watertown. As I go around this state, and we're going to a number of my street events, the problems of the people on my street, they're up against it. They're struggling right now. I've lived in that community. I understand their problems. I've lived that. My goodness, they talk about college tuition, and I've been paying college tuition for 20 years and I'm still not done yet. So I understand their lives, and I also know that, as I go about - my street is like almost every other street in Massachusetts, with people who are struggling, uncertain future. They want a governor who's on their side, not with talk, but with action, that's gotten things done over a period of time, and proved themselves to the people of Massachusetts.

ROONEY: Chris, Tom brought up the issue of the spending limit on the primary. You set it at 15.36, and you said it was partly in jest because that was the percentage you got at the Democratic State Convention. But isn't there something slightly cynical in that? I mean, I know the consultant Dan Payne has written that people don't really care how the race is won, whether it's on somebody's money or not, but isn't there something a little cynical in that?

GABRIELI: No. Look, it was an arbitrary number that you have to file -

ROONEY: Well, it's not arbitrary if that's the limit. That is now the limit that they all have to abide by. That's not arbitrary.

GABRIELI: I don't think any of us are going to come close to the limit, so -

ROONEY: But that's the limit. It's not 5.36, it's 15.

GABRIELI: Kerry Healey has, on the record, said she intends to spend $15 million in this race, to the Worcester Telegram. And, you know, I think it's crucial - it's time for us to get a Democrat in the corner office. I think it's crucial that we run a race that's fully competitive as Democrats. Not just after September 19th, but the whole way, because voters are paying attention the whole way. The arbitrary division of the primary date is not the key.

But I want to come back to your previous point, Emily, because I agree.

Opportunity is what my life has certainly been about. And I think that that's why I've committed myself to broadening opportunity. And you have to do things to do that. It's not just to say you're for it. So for example, how do we change our school system so kids really, from poorer backgrounds, have the same kind of opportunities that I got lucky enough to get, and took advantage of, I think? That's why I work so hard to break the back of a school system that's stuck on 180 days and six hours, and why I'm a big supporter of real innovation and change like that. Because if we want this to be the kind of opportunity society where every kid gets the kind of chances that I'm fortunate enough to have gotten and I tried to give my kids, we're going to have to really change some things. It's not enough to be for it in principle. You've got to get some real results and change to narrow the achievement gap, to raise kids even at the highest points to even higher levels. And you've got to have real specific, innovative ideas of how to do that, and I think the courage to stand up to interests that will oppose you when you try to make those changes.

ROONEY: It's always uncomfortable to talk about money issues here, but that's what we're going at here, and now I'm going to ask you. I think a number of people were slightly taken aback when they saw the photograph in the Boston Globe a couple weeks ago about your new home in Richmond. It's just -

PATRICK: I was taken aback.

ROONEY: (laughter). It's almost 10,000 square feet when you combine the houses on the property, 77 acres. A lot of clear cutting, that also put people off. But some of the residents in your town have said that they feel like this is the kind of thing that makes it hard for them to establish how Richmond is not by nature a really wealthy community. I mean, it's a nice summer place. But some of your residents say, this is the kind of thing that happens. The rich people come in. It's their summer houses. We can't afford to live and work there. How do you respond to that?

PATRICK: Well, I guess the first response we had, when we first read about the house in the Globe is, we tried to figure out how they came up with 24 rooms. My wife and I said, you'd have to count every closet and -

ROONEY: But were they wrong on the square footage?

PATRICK: They were wrong on that too. It's much - what they're basing this on, is a former building permit that the builders -

ROONEY: It's a big house.

REILLY: It's about the size of Watertown.

PATRICK: By any - it's not that either. But by any -

REILLY: It's close.

PATRICK: But by any measure, it's a big house. It's 10 rooms, not 24, but that's a big house. And by the way, we didn't clear-cut. We took down maybe eight trees. This is a 200-year-old meadow in the middle, surrounded by woods, in the old Richmond Furnace (sp?). And we are very, very blessed to have this place. It's a family home. We have a large extended family. We intend to use it that way. And I - we feel very fortunate. I don't think this is the measure of anybody's values, however, and I think it's a mistake, all this concentration on individual wealth and so forth. Every one of us has worked hard and every one of us is blessed. Tom is always talking about how he's the regular guy. He made more money than 90%, 80% of the people in Massachusetts. We are all blessed. And so, I think what we ought to be about is how we hand on those blessings, how we make those blessings possible for other people. And that's why I'm running for governor.

ROONEY: Well, speaking of making blessings happen for other people. Tom Reilly, you're the only one who favors an immediate rollback of the taxes to 5% as the voters said they wanted some several years ago. You also have said you want to give more back to the cities and towns in terms of local aid so that people can lower their property taxes. Isn't there a dichotomy there? Why not do one or the other, and say, look. Let's give more back to the cities and towns in the form of local aid, but we can't do both. You're going to have to raise taxes to do both. Why not take one stand?

REILLY: We can do both. We can do both. The next governor is, even after rolling back the tax rate - which, the people have very clearly said that's where they want the rate set, to 5.0 - the next governor will still have at least $500 million in extra, additional revenue that the current governor doesn't have. I would -

ROONEY: But what difference is it going to make to the ordinary guy? Is it going to be 100 bucks -

REILLY: First of all, it's more than that.

ROONEY: Wouldn't they be more happy to say, hey, my property tax bill went down, which basically only a fraction of one percent of anybody can say in any given year?

REILLY: That is a decision that they should make, particularly now, when they are getting hit from every direction. At the gasoline pump, utility, auto insurance bills. That's $200 that's in people's pockets.

That's their decision as to how to spend that money. There are other efficiencies to be had in state government, as well. Deval has estimated it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So, there are additional moneys, you can honor the people's will and keep the promise, and also have additional moneys for local aid. At the end of the day, the way through this for Massachusetts is to grow this economy, focus on innovation, focus on creating jobs that will provide additional revenue, earmark that for cities and towns for better schools and better infrastructure. But that is the way through, and build a solid future for Massachusetts. And that's why I've emphasized economic growth, building off and investing in innovation.

The University of Massachusetts investing almost $500 million over five years, growing off their research and development, and turning those ideas into jobs.

ROONEY: Do either of you disagree that you can do both?

PATRICK: I think it's not possible. I've tried this math. I'd like to, but look. The tax to cut, in my view, is the property tax. It's a regressive tax. It's an inefficient way to raise money-

ROONEY: But that's done town by town.

PATRICK: But the way to do that, you can not reduce the property tax unless you give cities and towns more local aid. You can not provide local aid and at the same time - at least at the levels we need - and at the same time roll the income tax back. So I believe we should postpone that income tax rollback. Now, I think it's also important - Tom makes a point about the importance of growing the economy. He's absolutely right. That is the way we will grow our way forward. That's true. But in order to get growth, we have to invest in ourselves, because businesses do not want to be in places or expand in places where the infrastructure is falling apart. And our infrastructure is falling apart, from more crowded schools in every community, to roads and bridges and dams. All - out in Marlborough, which has become its own little economic hub, the mayor tells me she's got the land, she's got the votes, she's got the political will to continue to encourage businesses to come in. They don't have the waste water treatment capacity on the east side of town, and they can't, with all the other items on their list of overrides, they can't find the $600,000 to expand that waste water treatment capacity. Now, that's a lot of money for an individual, but not for the city of Marlborough, and not for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And yet it's right in the way of future economic growth.


GABRIELI: I think there's a responsible path to getting to 5.0, something that would provide relief to 5.0% of the income tax, would provide relief to middle-class families and follow the will of the voters. We can't do it all in one step. Even Mitt Romney doesn't think so. We've got a couple people in this race who think it's a good year to -

ROONEY: (inaudible) went against the will of the voters before, this certain legislature has, when it comes to (inaudible) elections -

GABRIELI: I think we're getting the point where we can afford, and the responsible way is to lay out a formula that says to people, to voters, here's how you're going to get it. The Senate's come forward, for example, with an interesting plan that would be triggered after fiscal year 2002, local aid levels are reached again, which we haven't even gotten back to.

So there's a way to do that, I think. That's what I'm going to favor. I'm going to lay out a plan for it so people can know exactly when and how we'll get there. And it is true, that the faster you get the economy growing, as we did in the 1990s when we did cut taxes from 5.95 to 5.93, not on the backs of local aid, not on the backs of UMass, but through economic growth. The key to that, by the way, is understanding how to drive the innovation economy, and that's why I proposed a billion dollars over a decade from bonding to support the advanced science and technology that leads to those jobs.

ROONEY: Chris, you brought up a minute ago a question of education, and that's part of your business. You're a big advocate. But in this group right here, Tom Reilly is the only one whose children actually went through the public schools. And you say you're a big supporter of public schools.

You say you're a big supporter of public schools. We're all talking here about public schools. That's what property taxes go for, for heaven's sakes. Why didn't you put your kids in the public schools?

GABRIELI: Well, I think each individual makes the choice they think is best for their kids. What I've spent my time on is creating -

ROONEY: Is it because they're no good?

GABRIELI: No, I'm - each person makes their own choices. My wife and I went through that. But again, I'm not running for governor because of what I'm going to do for my kids. I'm running for governor for what I can do for other kids. And I'm not talking about it. You say I say I'm for it. Hey, Emily, there are thousands of kids in after school programs today in Massachusetts directly because of the work I led. There's the first law in the nation to change the school day -

ROONEY: Well, what's wrong with admitting that you just want a privileged education for your kids?

GABRIELI: As I say, my wife and I pick what we think is the single best education for our kids, and we're very pleased with the schools and how our kids are doing. But that's not - this personal focus is the wrong thing.

People want a governor who will get results for their kids, not for my kids.

ROONEY: But they don't understand the thinking that -

GABRIELI: Not for my kids. We should vote for the person whose kids have the highest grade point average? No. We should vote for the candidate for governor who's got the best ideas and the real track record of doing something about it to actually improve schools for all kids. And that's why I'm really proud of the results I've had already to help kids.

PATRICK: I'll tell you, we made a judgment, really, that had to do with the diversity of the community we were living in versus the diversity of the schools. And we wanted our kids to be in a classroom where they weren't the only black kids in the school. But beyond that, look, I looked to some of the models I have seen in private school to help me create the vision for public schools. I talk about a comprehensive approach that starts before kindergarten, with early education opportunities for 3- and 4-year-olds, and all day kindergarten, and smaller class size, and longer school day. And frankly, Chris has helped me think more deeply about some of those issues, with after-school programs and enrichment opportunities.

Supervised homework is profound for a kid whose family doesn't speak English at home. There are all kinds of ways in which we can be more creative about the people and the buildings, if you will, in public education today, driving toward a goal which is educating the whole child.

And that's exactly the kind of experience that my kids had in their schools.

ROONEY: Tom, go ahead.

REILLY: I believe in the public schools. My wife's a former public school teacher.

PATRICK: Me too.

REILLY: I respect their decision, and my first plan really is a major focus on increasing the math and science skills of our children. That's the key to their future, and certainly the key to an innovation economy in our state. I've had a major, and will have a major, emphasis on public higher education, because that's the hope of the middle class in this state, all three levels. The community colleges, the state colleges, and the University of Massachusetts, turning it into a top-tier public university in this country. Those are my goals. My focus is on public education, because I believe. And nine out of 10 parents in this state send their kids to the public schools, so we need an emphasis, and we need somebody that understands what's going on in those schools.

ROONEY: This week, (inaudible) public schools, this debate came up. An issue that's actually being debated in the legislature -

GABRIELI: Fluffernutters. (laughter).

ROONEY: -- is fluffernutters.

GABRIELI: That's crazy. That's just crazy.

ROONEY: And I want to know, I really want to just get a slice from each of you on what you think about this. One legislator is wanting to ban it from the public schools. Another wants to make it the - peanut butter, the official sandwich of the state. But this is what the legislature is doing.

REILLY: Let's focus on repealing the statute of limitations in child abuse cases. Let's focus on this budget. There's important work for this legislature, and that's not one of them. I mean, my God.

ROONEY: It's front-page. It's driving the talk shows.

REILLY: It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous.

PATRICK: And it's a shame. It's a shame. And it's a reflection of politics as usual.

ROONEY: Should Jarrett Barrios not have brought it up?

PATRICK: Let's move to what matters, and that is what - that is the kind of leadership I want to bring. We have had so much of the same old, same old, for so long, and when we think about an economy that is stagnant, stuck in neutral and sliding backwards, public school classrooms that are getting more and more crowded, and infrastructure that's falling apart, including public higher education, to Tom's point, a healthcare system that is increasingly unaffordable. The notion that these issues would occupy the time and attention of the legislature reflects badly on all of us, and that is what we have to change, and what I will change when I win.

GABRIELI: It is a lot of silliness, and the media, I think, has fanned it. Jarrett Barrios, who I think's supporting you, Deval -

PATRICK: Bless his heart.

GABRIELI: -- I think has a good reason he's bringing it up, which is childhood obesity is a real epidemic. Now it's turned into this silliness, but childhood obesity is a serious epidemic, and we do need to take steps.

I'm not sure passing legislation about specific lunches at the State House is the right way to do it, but Peter Katuchin, for example, has worked on saying, why do we have vending machines in schools that encourage kids to drink these high sugar sodas and so forth? It is an issue in our state, as rapidly we have an epidemic in Type 2 diabetes. So, I think the wrong way to go about it is to maybe to put a bill in legislature, certainly to have it become this sort of ha, ha, ha. Because there are some real serious issues behind it.

ROONEY: We're at the end of this. I just want to quickly go around, starting with Tom. Just on a personal quality you think that you have that's appealing that these two don't.

REILLY: First of all, I think they have tremendous qualities. I admire what Deval has done with his life from the South Side of Chicago, and Chris has been very successful. I think what I have that they don't have is the experience. I've done it. I have a proven record of getting things done, and all due respect to them, I don't believe they can match that record.

And I have a vision for Massachusetts that focuses on things that matter in people's lives, and I think the people of this state know. I've been on their side for the last 10 years, and I'll match my record to where either them have been for the last 10 years.

ROONEY: I'm looking for a personal quality. Got one, Chris?

GABRIELI: Yeah. Got tenacious commitment to results. Sticking with things. Starting off on this after-school issue six years ago. Today, just a couple weekend ago, announcing with Mayor Menino eight more million dollars from the Wallace (sp?) Foundation for the kids of Boston. Getting the law actually changed in our state so that schools can actually run longer, two hours a day, in seven districts this fall. A commitment to not just talking about issues, but doing something about it and getting those results. And I think that's what people want in government, that's what they're not getting in government. They certainly haven't been getting it from the Romney/Healey Administration, a determination to be accountable for real results.

ROONEY: OK. Deval.

PATRICK: Well, I honor their accomplishments as well, each of them, and as individuals. I think my quality is, that's different, is that I have the ability to hope for the best and work for it. And it's on account of that, and something I learned from my grandmother, as a matter of fact. I've had leadership experience in government, in business, in not for profits, in community work. And there isn't anybody in this race, Democrat or Republican, who has that range of leadership experience.

ROONEY: OK. Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure having you here tonight, and we hope to have many more of these encounters in the future as the campaign progresses. Deval Patrick, Chris Gabrieli, and Tom Reilly. Thanks so much.

All: Thank you.

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