Where are the Goal-Oriented Leaders?

Councillors should be viewed as successful not by how long they can get the same people to vote for them but by how much they can improve our city.

By Frank Borger
Published March 19, 2010

An article in yesterday's Spectator highlights some posters on display at a James Street North art gallery decrying the concrete-sidewalk-clad City Hall.

The article includes a quote that struck me because it echoes my feelings and has been the tone of my communication with my own Councillor. Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who seems the target of most of the posters, is calling them 'borderline libelous'. In response to that, Graham Crawford said, "This isn't personal - it's about leadership."

Now this is exactly what I've been trying to get across to my Councillor: a Councillor holds that position to lead.

Leading implies that you make decisions that reflect the general consensus of those you're leading, but it feels like the process has been switched around. What seems to be happening instead is that decisions are made based narrowly on the people currently following the leader.

That's not how a leader should make decisions because it turns leading into what we've seen happen lately. Politicking Councillors are afraid to make potentially unpopular decisions if that means they may experience the ire of those who are/were following them. To avoid that, they make decisions that aren't for the betterment of our city.

Goal-Oriented Leadership

Proper leadership is goal-oriented. In our case, the goal for Councillors should be: to create a livable city with a strong economic base. A leader who focuses on that goal makes decisions that turn our city into a better place to live. and in turn receives support for their decisions.

Councillors should be viewed as successful not by how long they can get the same people to vote for them but by how much they can improve our city.

Some decisions may be unpopular among pockets of people or even the majority; however, if the leader has received his position based on a goal-oriented approach, their followers will see the improvements going on around them and support them.

I long for the day when Councillors, instead of shouting and throwing pens because their followers aren't getting their fair share, sit at a table and say, "Let's work together to turn this city into what we all know it can be."

I long for an atmosphere of "let us" rather than "what about me?"

I'm aware that there are going to be times when it's necessary to put the proverbial foot down to ensure constituents aren't taken advantage of, but voting 'nay' when a 'yay' will propel our city down the right path is inexcusable.

Where's the Vision?

Where's the vision? What exactly are our leaders trying to turn this city into?

As mayor of Hamilton, where has Fred Eisenberger disappeared? He got my vote because he didn't share the former mayor's desire to keep the city on the same track as it was, but whatever happened to him?

As mayor and the primary leader in the City of Hamilton, he should be out talking about what Hamilton could be, supporting motions that propel the City forward and knocking the feet out from under motions that don't.

He should be vocally promoting things like LRT and a stadium plan that has merit rather than waffling around behind the scenes, hoping the decision will be made without him having to take a stand.

There's a saying that goes something like this: Where there's no vision, people cast off restraint.

Ever wonder why there are so many people who don't know what the benefits of LRT are? Or why we should have a stadium near the Harbour? Or the merits of planning and building livable communities rather than those bisected by mini-highways, tiny (or no) sidewalks and little or no transit service?

When will Hamilton get a leader that it deserves?

Frank Borger is an engineering technologist who lives in Stoney Creek. He moved to Hamilton when he was 18 and has lived in East Hamilton, the West Mountain and Downtown. He grew up in Beamsville.


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2010 at 21:28:22

I know it goes against my usual militant anarchist shtick, but I actually am a fan of Mayor Eisenberger. And while he has occasionally had some bold visions (such as a pedestrian Gore Park), it's more in his ability to compromise that I respect him.

Admittedly, a good deal of my respect has to do with his last-minute defeat of the dark lord Larry DiIanni, but I think that the episode is more telling that it seems at first.

Eisenberger is criticized a lot for being a "lame duck leader" and not having control of council. But that's not what a mayor's job should be. He represents a lot of diverse interests, many of which are in conflict. DiIanni was admittedly much better at taking charge, but he was virtually always at odds with the progressive side of city politics. In such a context, no one issue is ever worthy of either side dropping it's guard. The Red Hill Expressway, Aerotropolis, election contribution corruption etc - it simply was a no-win situation.

While Eisenberger doesn't always "get things done", at least both sides are more comfortable with him. He's got a background with both the Conservative party and Green Venture. It makes for an environment where compromise is possible, and where city hall will at least listen to an idea from either side.

I don't think anybody will disagree that they'd like a council which will do what's best for Hamilton. But they might disagree on what IS best for Hamilton.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 09:47:00

Frank: Great commentary. This is the stuff of great discussions. I hope that there's some good back-and-forth here as a result. Well done.

Undustrial: "While Eisenberger doesn't always "get things done", at least both sides are more comfortable with him."

I don't want to get harsh here, but seriously, I have to ask what your definition of 'great leader' is.

Granted, there are many management styles, Some are arbitrary, some are collaborative, some are inspirational... But in the end, there are desired results. What you've described is a 'good friend'. Or a coach or teacher that's well-liked, but doesn't win, doesn't get his students to achieve brilliantly. Not an effective mayor.

As someone who admittedly stands on the periphery of things-Hamilton in terms of politics, the impression that Eisenberger has given me is one of...of nothingness. It's not a case of him being 'wrong', it's not a case of him being 'misguided'. It's a case of him appearing to be a non-entity. Now, if he was still managing to get stuff done, if Hamilton was moving forward, if his 'invisibility' was proving to be a boon, that it was the reason things were being accomplished, fine.

I suspect that the situation is more that nothing catastrophic has happened on his watch.

I don't feel like we currently have a great mayor. And I realized this last night when I spent 15 minutes on the phone answering survey questions. One portion had to do with who I had the most faith in...and I was actually stunned by my response: that I trusted the Federal government with my interests more than I did my local government.

As a born-and-bred Hamiltonian, I am saddened to realize that we're currently living in an abyss, leadership-wise.

I want leaders with vision, I want leaders with integrity, I want leaders with conviction, with empathy, who actually represent the people more than they represent business interests, leaders who inspire.

Mayor Eisenberger does not come to mind when I think of these attributes.

He may indeed be a 'nice guy', but I do not believe he is what Hamilton needs right now, or will need in the near future...returning me to the thrust of Frank's editorial.

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By frank (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:09:16

I'm a fan of what Mayor Fred thinks and says (I think) but I don't think he's vocal enough. Not nearly enough... He needs to be out more doing what I like to call "casting vision".

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2010 at 20:25:21

Perhaps it is Hamilton's history of inept and corrupt mismanagement that leads me to prefer leaders who don't. The Red Hill Expressway, "downtown redevelopment" (replacing complex streetscapes and neighbourhoods with parking lots, failing malls, urban freeways and tenement towers), the explosion of heavily subsidized sprawl on the south mountain etc - it's hard to imagine a major decision without which Hamilton would be worse off.

Quite frankly, this town has seen more than it's share of "great leaders" with "bold visions" for Hamilton. The last thing it needs is another multi-million dollar boondoggle from some politician wishing to build up a "legacy" for himself. We need to abandon the faith that some magical development (the Lister, Red Hill, Pan Am Games etc) is going to solve this city's problems, and get about solving them ourselves.

My definition of a "great leader" is one who leads where people wish to follow. And while I'd love to see a pedestrianized Gore Park, there definitely wasn't a lot of support for it. Light rail, on the other hand, is a strong and coherent demand of the community.

"The government which governs least, governs best."

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 20, 2010 at 20:44:49

So prefer leaders who don't lead...and yet still lead where people wish to follow.


Sounds to me like what you're really talking about is an active involvement in decision-making on the part of each citizen...assuming of course that a) they're interested (they're not, not to this extent; they'll tell you they have lives to live and that they vote people into office in order to NOT be bothered with the details and all their concomitant hassles), and b) that their collective vision is correct. (I don't think I need to bat around this notion very much in order for it to be all bloody and pulpy; the average person barely has a sufficiently-qualified opinion about the life they're living, never mind the world at large.)

Sounds more like your disenchantment with local politics has really mangled your faith in the very concept of 'leadership'. Or, more pointedly, what you're expressing reminds me of someone who's had their heart shattered by Love and therefore has no time for it in their lives. (Strangely enough, when these people fall in love again, they can't remember ever having made such a declaration.)

I wonder if you'd feel the same way about leadership if, for the sake of argument, rather than listing grievances, you'd offered up hosannahs for decisions that were 'right' (in your eyes).

(By the way, the quote you offer in closing is really only a valid one if you have other forces at play, ones that mesh with both common sense and common vision. From what I can see, they're non-existent in Hamilton at the present time. Yes, there's talk, some degree of dialogue...but really, little of anything possessing integrity of either direction or motion.)

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2010 at 21:28:58

So the solution for bad leadership is no leadership? I think not.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. I don't think that's an overstatement.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 00:32:05

Careful what you wish for. If you want your councillor to be a leader, you'll get 15 mayors! So we get a country club for a council. Cosy, comfortable, non confrontational.

I'd be all for battening down the hatches, preparing for the coming financial storm but it seems i'm in the minority. Citizens seem to want LRTs, stadia and Pan Am Games without heed for our precarious, tax eroded predicament. So the crafty pols cater to the 30% that votes. C'est la vie! Tea parties may eventually get here but it may take another dozen years by which time, if we continue our spendthrift habits, bankruptcy beckons.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 00:58:21

Undustrial is on to something. Government directed mega-projects are usually disastrous in the long run. It may seem "cool" or the magic bullet for now, but there are always unintended consequences that are long lasting. That is not leadership... it is artificially messing with the natural progression of things. Who is to say that in 2 years a private company wouldn't have bought up the Lister Block and redone it? If there are no private investors it is because the area is not ready for it yet. Artificially doing the project through government will not change any of the other factors that make the area ready or not.
In the meantime, government should be doing the following: ensuring all potential investors are treated equally, by-laws are followed and offenders get consequences, there are enough amenities and services for all tax payers, services expand as dictated by demand.

I know I am sounding like a capitalist, but if private investors are not involved, projects cannot possibly be sustainable.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 09:44:08

I'm sorry, but the last thing I want is a leader who is simply led around by the nose by the wishes of the various NIMBY groups who bother to show up at meetings or send emails.

Brian McHattie has shown great leadership in Ward 1 on a few different fronts - supporting bike lanes on Dundurn even when some business owners complained. He sees the bigger picture and understands what is for the common good.

Rolly Rockets on King at Locke was met with the usual NIMBYism by a few neighbours who would rather see the building remain empty forever instead of a new restaurant to serve the community. McHattie suggested a community and the folks at Rolly Rockets have never looked back after gathering massive support from the community and Brian himself.

He supports the 7 storey mega skyscraper at Aberdeen and Dundurn (right next door to a 5 storey, by the way) despite strong opposition from people who don't even live near that intersection and are simply part of that Hamilton 'do nothing' cohort.

There are several more examples, but from what I can tell, he is the only one on council willing to operate based on principle, and at the same time will facilitate discussion and compromise among various groups - ie - adding in more parking spots along Dundurn under a revised plan etc......

The last thing I want is your average Hamiltonian calling the shots. I know that sounds bad, but the fact is, we have suffered from decades of pure misinformation from our elected leaders, business leaders and media about what it takes to be a successful city. Perhaps in a community with a better understanding of urban places I'd be fine with the people running the show, but Hamilton would run the risk of turing into one massive drive thru Tims/Lakeport outlet if the people were left in charge.

I still like the idea of having the province kick out our council and having them run the show for 4 or 5 years. They might not do any better, but they surely wouldn't do any worse.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 13:52:12

Leasdership, well I just do not see real leadership in this city. The city is made of people, working people and the last mayor to stand up for the working people was Sam Lawrence. He understood the battles of the people back in the day. The fight for fair wages, benenits and pensions, he understood the working families and their needs. Flash forward to today and what do we see.

We have almost one third of the people living in dire poverty, job losses are still happening which will push that number even further higher, 550 jobs at Siemans, another 1000 or so when the Steel car contract runs dry and many of these workers at Steel Car will not have enough hours for EI, thus leaving them with only welfare, if they cannot find jobs. Other workers are trapped in precarious work where wages are low, no benefits, forget saving for retirement.

There is also now a organization out there that is pushing volunteering into workplaces and they are saying that they have the backing of Ontario Works and ODSP, but they do not. More lies that will affect those who are the most marginalized, those who are desparate for work, yet many may not know or understand their rights as workers and getting into this type of workplace placement, they will not be covered by employment standards, WSIB or Occupational Health and Safety. From the website, there seems to be a local business that seems to backing this endeavor and workers will be paid oly $30.00 per day for working an 8 hour day, yes, one can see what it is INDENTURED SLAVE LABOUR. Third world working conditions in our own city, that was a leader in the plight of the worker. Where is the sheriff to run this group out of town.

So who is really served in this community, it those with money, not those who have very little, who struggle to find shelter, who have a very hard time finding food, and I do not want to hear about food banks because the food banks only give enough food for a couple of days, so this system is FAILING.

The people have been forgotten, it is only about those, the elite and their minions who follow them. People know what they need or want, it is just that nobody really asks them.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 16:31:13

Leadership still comes down to the two tenets of Machiavellian leadership: love and fear... and it is easier to be feared.

A successful leader should be loved (in modern terms I would say respected) by his followers and feared by his opponents and possible successors, (i.e., councilors). Successful Mayors rarely have councilors speak out against them because they fear the consequences. That is what is needed in Hamilton, a Mayor with vision that is loved and feared. Mayor Eisenberger seems to be able to muster some love from the citizens of Hamilton but he has shown no ability to control council and in very simple terms that comes down to a lack of fear on the part of councilors. Councilors in this city don't even seem to think twice about getting on their soap boxes and shooting their mouths off.

If the Mayor can acquire the respect and votes of a wide spread majority of Hamiltonians through communicating his vision, then local councilors would fear opposing him for fear of losing votes. Mayor Eisenberger needs to drop the 24/7 nice guy act and begin the often two-pronged and at times bi-polar job of leadership. If the Mayor does not agree with statements made by councilors he should be publicly challenging them. He should be constantly communicating his vision for the city and attacking all opinions to the contrary. Politics is not a good-guy's game. I hear a lot about consensus building, but the time for consensus building comes once dissention is quelled, (i.e., you need to stop disagreeing before you can start agreeing). That is going to require massive change to the current situation at city hall and more often than not in dysfunctional political forums changes are made through brute force not being the nice guy. Mayor Eisenberger should have been laying the ground work for this throughout this political term, so this fall citizens could have the opportunity to decide who's vision they want to follow. Helping citizens sort out what councilors stand for what and why is part of the Mayor's job. Unfortunately this has not been done and changes this fall may be wishful thinking or of the kneejerk variety.

The tenets of love and fear may seem overly simple, and some of the tactics required somewhat distasteful, but there is a reason people still read "The Prince" and many people have achieved great power and accomplished broad changes by following Machiavelli's basic tenets… It really is how it works and has been for hundreds of years.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 18:40:16

According to the 2010 budget process document, non-residential assessment in Hamilton is 12.6% of total assessment. In contrast, the average of Ontario municipalities (>100k residents) is 17%. Yet, even with this low level of taxes from Hamilton's business sector, the residents of Hamilton still have the privilege of losing our entire waterfront to heavy industry.

Burlington, a city without a large industrial presence, has 17% of its revenues from the non-residential sector. Is it possible that by allowing heavy industry to dominate our waterfront, we are actually reducing the smaller scale, but higher tax revenue businesses that Burlington seems to have?

If I was advising council, I would suggest they immediately buy the Stelco property (which could likely be had for no more than $500M) and start turning it into a large scale version of the west harbour.
If done properly, this would be some of the most valuable real estate in the city, producing much more in tax revenue and employment than a 100 year old steel factory.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 21, 2010 at 20:23:38

"If I was advising council, I would suggest they immediately buy the Stelco property (which could likely be had for no more than $500M) and start turning it into a large scale version of the west harbour. If done properly, this would be some of the most valuable real estate in the city, producing much more in tax revenue and employment than a 100 year old steel factory. " - More roads

Absolutely right.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 01:06:58


Unions and organized labour in the private sector is over. Unless people like you realize this NOW, your situation will only worsen as time goes on. Your union is royally screwing you... the very fact that you haven't figured this out makes me wonder.

My heart bleeds for all those earning $30/day for 8 hours of "hard labour!!!" Give me a break.

Didn't anyone tell you life is tough?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 02:23:45

A sign of the times: Put your money where mouth is, why not have your paycheque dropped down to $30.00 per day, I am sure given your political standing, you would have no problem living on that amount and volunteering, instead of being deemed as an employee and being entitled to coverage of our labour laws.

Lead by example, show us the way. Come out into the sunlight. And if you get injuried and cannot volunteer anymore and since your a volunteer, oh you will not be entitled to any wporkers comp or to be retrained, I am sure there are many in our community that would love kick you to the curb.

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By frank (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 09:33:30

More roads/Kiely...I like the idea but wouldn't that area require some sort of remediation? Lord knows what's in the ground around there. Great points earlier Keily...

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By frank (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 09:33:58

@grassroots - write your own article for pete's sake.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 10:02:51

"More roads/Kiely...I like the idea but wouldn't that area require some sort of remediation? Lord knows what's in the ground around there. Great points earlier Keily..." - Frank

Yes, there would be obvious challenges but it should be a goal of the city to convert that land. Frankly, it may not be able to be done. For one, US Steel still keeps up the masquerade that it is a functioning plant, then the money needs to be found to buy the land (if it goes up for sale) and clean the land. As you said, Lord only knows what will be in the ground there. It would be great for the city to convert that land though, it is hard to argue with that... unless you work for Stelco of course.

Thanks for the kudos Frank.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 17:53:32


People like you aren't heard in any other country because they starve. You wouldn't last a week anywhere outside of North America.

Be thankful for what you have. If anyone outside of North America heard your whining, they would trade places with you in an instant.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2010 at 20:32:16

I define a leader as someone who people CHOOSE to follow, ergo good leadership includes both persuasive talents and a knack for serving the people. A ruler, on the other hand, directs the people under their command with force, fear and punishment. Which of the above better describes the government?

The apathy of the electorate is a direct result of the failures of our government to consult or represent them. Have you ever tried to participate in these decisions? The bureaucrats at city hall don't want any help with their jobs. Ever wonder where areas with more representative voting systems have much more voter turnout? And as for the electorate demanding statdia and whatnot - they don't. We have a political system and media which reward such shenanigans and bring very little attention to issues like basic food or housing.

Not that I feel the average neighbourhood association represents the population much better, they very rarely speak for anyone but the most privileged property owners in an area. Or, for that matter, investors, big labour unions or any particular political party. The fallacy of leadership - that individuals can represent the diverse viewpoints of a community - has put a bunch of self-interested idiots in charge of all these institutions (often the same ones).

Pick up a copy of "Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs. I illustrates far better than I why big denelopments, whether public or private, tend to fail. Though the book was written half a century ago, it's still frighteningly relevant.

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By Raven (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 23:08:02

Well there are no benefits to having a stadium at the west harbour which is why the mayor can't hold it up to a debate. Why he hides from the other issues is because he makes poor decisions, he is not qualified to do any better. Being the mayor is just a job, it has nothing to do with doing anything or making anything better. It used to but that was awhile ago. It no longer has anything to do with leading or being qualified to lead. He applied for the job and people voted for him. He won, we lost. When you look back on how well a mayor did his job you look at how his time in office benefited the people, jobs, housing, using tax money in the most efficient way.

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By Bonnie (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 23:13:02

If your Mayor is referred to as Dead Head Fred it probably means he's not regarded as a great leader.

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By Leaders? (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 09:44:50

When is someone from RTH going to put their money where their mouth is and show the city what good leadership looks like?

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By race_to_the_bottom (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:42:23

This keeps coming up, why is it that the only 'legitimate' way to be an active citizen is to run for office, that if your not running for election your not really 'putting your money where your mouth is'??

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By Leaders? (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:12:41

Because otherwise you're just whining into the wind? RTH definitely has the monopoly on complaining about Hamilton (and in this article's case, Hamilton's Leadership), but who else are you waiting for to step up? Obviously the really important decisions (i.e. power) are being made by our municipal and provincial leaders, so common sense suggests that in order to make a noticeable, positive difference, you have to finally put away the "concerned citizen" t-shirt, and put on the "Leader" one...

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By F Hayek (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:19:08

Sometimes I feel that being a hero for urbanism on the internet is a lot like being really really good at World of Warcraft. You're cool among your own group, who will love you and sing your praises at every moment. You win the internet.

but in the real world, well, you're still just really good at being a level 75 Orc-Urbanist-Undead-Mage.

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By Leaders? (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:21:46

Bwuhahaha, that's too funny, Friedrich! Roll 1d20 to combat NIMBYism!!!

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By F Hayek (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:26:56

PARTY Encounters!
The Ferguson. (Level 45 Councilor). +10 against Heritage Advocates.


you find: The Armoured Gauntlets Of J. Jacbos! The Ancient Scroll of LRT!

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