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The governor’s totally messed up program

Monday, Mar 10, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

“There was no money allocated at all before the election of 2010,” Gov. Pat Quinn told Chicago TV reporter Charles Thomas about allegations that the governor had spent millions in state anti-violence grants to boost his flagging election campaign. Quinn used his to defend himself against growing criticism about a devastating state audit of the anti-violence grants.

But what the governor said in his own defense was not true.

According to Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland, Quinn’s administration signed contracts with 23 local groups on October 15th, about three weeks before 2010’s election day. Each of the groups, hand-picked by Chicago aldermen, were promised about $300,000 for a total of around $7 million.

“That is allocating money,” Auditor General Holland emphatically said last week about the awarding of those state contracts.

A Quinn spokesman countered that the governor actually meant to say that no money was distributed to the groups prior to election day. But the groups’ leaders, many with political ties, had signed state contracts in their hands. They knew that bigtime state money was on the way soon.

As you probably already know, Holland’s audit uncovered massive problems with the grants, finding “pervasive deficiencies” in the “planning, implementation, and management” of the grants doled out via the Governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The program was “hastily implemented,” expenses were not adequately monitored, and a third of Chicago’s “most violent Chicago communities” weren’t included in the program.

The governor met with a group of ministers in the Roseland community in August of 2010. Black ministers have long held a strong position of power in Chicago’s African-American political culture, so Quinn was undoubtedly eager to placate them ahead of election day.

Five days after the meeting, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority was informed by the governor’s office that Quinn wanted to establish a $20 million crime reduction program. Less than two months after the initial meeting, the governor upped the grant program to $50 million for Chicago communities alone. Chicago aldermen were asked to submit lists of groups that would receive the money and that list alone was used to solicit Requests for Proposals from the groups. Contracts were signed on October 15th.

The audit’s language is without a doubt the harshest since Rod Blagojevich was governor.

Some Republicans asked the Auditor General last week to forward his findings to the US Attorney.

One of the items pointed to by the Republicans is a passage from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s September 30th, 2010 board minutes, when an official from the governor’s office told the board that “the Governor’s Office is committed to allocating some of the funds for this Initiative immediately and will allocate the rest after the election.”

That quote, the Republicans say, is proof that the election was an issue with the program. He was, some of them say, trying to “buy” the 2010 election. But that’s not really my read.

Back when Jim Edgar was Secretary of State, he oversaw a literacy grant program. Not coincidentally, lots of African-American churches with schools received grants from Edgar. The plan was simple and well thought out: Use state money to carefully buy influence with an important constituency.

But the creation of Quinn’s anti-violence initiative was completely reactive. Quinn was under enormous pressure from leaders of exploding neighborhoods to act fast.

The idea here appeared to be to throw something - anything - together as quickly as he could to get the angry ministers and neighborhood leaders off his back. Allowing aldermen to pick the local agencies further ensured that the squeakiest wheels would be greased.

What Quinn purchased wasn’t votes, it was peace with a powerful and important constituency. It got him out of the headlines. He was no longer part of the problem.

There are those who say politics and governing must be completely separated, but that just can’t happen in a democratic republic.

How many of the legislators carelessly talking to the press about impeachment in this case have introduced bills or voted for or against legislation to the benefit of a powerful local constituency? All of them.

There’s no doubt, however, that this grant program went far beyond normally accepted practices, to the point of throwing them out. But the really serious legal problems will likely be found in the middle and the bottom - perhaps some of the aldermen who recommended the agencies and any of the connected folks who got the grants.

* Meanwhile

West Garfield Park ranks in the top 20 most violent areas on the city map.

In 2011 and 2012, the West Side neighborhood got more than $2.1 million from Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration through his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, state records show.

But instead of all that public money going toward quelling the shooting and other violence there, a substantial chunk of it — almost 7 percent — appears to have gone into the pocket of the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.

Benton Cook, Brown’s spouse, was paid more than $146,401 in salary and fringe benefits from state grant funds to serve as the program coordinator with the Chicago Area Project, the agency the Quinn administration put in charge of doling out anti-violence funding to West Garfield Park, state records show.

And no comment yet from the governor’s office.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Walter Mitty - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:06 pm:

    I really believe this will be the focus on March 19th. As it should be. This actually makes Quinn looks worse than about anything he has or has not done… Not answering will not be an option soon. Especially if the farmer wins… This could be a loop playing incessantly. If there are answers, ugly or not. PQ would be best to get something out. Quickly.

  2. - Galewood - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:07 pm:

    Liquor store loving alderman Deborah Graham is caught up in this too. She directed $290,000 to a nonprofit run by her pastor, John Abercrombie. Google john abercrombie tribune for an October article the Tribune did of all the other taxpayer money he’s received and wasted - he’s a slumlord in Austin while he lives in an Orland Park mansion (largely paid by his getting minority contract set-asides). Abercrombie was also shielding a pedophile choir director according to the Tribune.

    A LOT more information is coming out on Deborah Graham and we will start releasing it as soon as the primary is done

  3. - Galewood - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:09 pm:

    Google Deborah Graham Neighborhood Recovery Initiative for what’s been reported so far

  4. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:15 pm:

    Politics is politics. I can see Edgar currying some good will with the literacy grants, but children with library books were not going door to door distributing pamphlets were they? Quinn’s mess is much worse. It is not going to go away.

    Another comparison could be to Secretary of State George Ryan personally appearing in all of the televised ads encouraging organ donations.

  5. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:20 pm:

    The other problem for Quinn with this is, to be really blunt. It plays to a lot of suburban suspicions/thoughts about how Chicago ‘works’.

  6. - Walter Mitty - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:24 pm:

    OneMan… You went there… Why? Because it’s true… It also hurts the ” I saved money for pensions.” Especially if found unconstitutional… Nobody is talking impeachment…Yet. How toxic could this become??? We will know by the end of April. How does PQ talk about budgets without adressing this?

  7. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:29 pm:

    I always hear about the power of incumbency but there are drawbacks too. Last elections chicken feed is bringing them home to roost.

    BTW, I know my statement doesn’t really make much sense but I am adopting the Dan Proft campaign literature methodology.

  8. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:33 pm:

    I thought Rauner would go dark on TV for a while after March 18.

    Ain’t gonna happen. The negative Quinn spot based on this will be seen early and often, starting about March 19.

  9. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:37 pm:

    You also have to wonder if the Sun Times is done with this yet. Who knows what else they found in those documents.

  10. - Norseman - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:40 pm:

    Word, I agree with you.

  11. - 47th Ward - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:46 pm:

    ===starting about March 19===

    Maybe, but I’m with OneMan, I don’t think the S-T is done and I think lots of other news outlets will be all over this. There are dozens of grants out there, and dozens of stories behind them. This is going to drip out in weekly installments for months, right up to the election.

    Rauner won’t need to run this ad in March, even though he could. The story hasn’t run its course yet, no need to highlight this yet.

    Reporting on how all of the $54 million was spent will be like peeling an onion: the more layers you peel away, the more it’s going to stink.

  12. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:51 pm:

    -word-/-norseman-, I’ve expected all along that Rauner would run ads solid from the primary to the general. The question is whether Quinn or his surrogates will also run ads full time.

    At least the media companies should be able to report a profit this year …

  13. - Reader - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:51 pm:

    This grant program reads like a storyline from the Starz show “Boss”. How great was that show?!

  14. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:57 pm:

    I think if he is running ads on it, it will help drive the reporting a bit.
    Also lets assume Rauner has the same info the Sun Times has, it will be interesting to see who else turns up what.

  15. - anon - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 1:57 pm:

    I N E X C U S I B L E
    This reflects Quinn’s worst attribute as Governor…poor management. If Quinn were administratively competent, he would lead the effort to get to the bottom of what happened, and make sure it never happens again. It appears the governor’s focus has been on deflection through misleading/inaccurate statements. Quinn can survive this, but his troubles will likely worsen if he engages in an effective cover-up.

  16. - fed up - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:01 pm:

    Completely disagree, Quinn was buying votes. This was a get out the vote for Quinn program where Quinn paid Revs, and Revs got voters to the ballot box for Quinn

  17. - jim - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:03 pm:

    Both sides, I predict, will open up on March 19. It will be an effort by each one to define the other. Isn’t that what Rod did to Judy in 2008?

  18. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:05 pm:

    The Clerk Dorothy Brown connection is troubling. Her tenure as Clerk of Court has been disgraceful and the fact that Quinn sought her out speaks volumes.

  19. - VanillaMan - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:08 pm:

    Quinn should immediately apologize for the incredible waste of $54,000,000 - then establish a blue ribbon committee to investigate what would be the best way to reduce neighborhood violence. At the same time he should let everyone know that he is open and cooperative to any investigations on where these millions went.

    If Quinn did this in good intent, he should be disgusted by the revelations being reported daily. He should be ashamed and angered by the apparent waste. What he wanted to accomplish was abused by people who only enriched themselves. Quinn should be openly angry and disgusted by these revelations. He should lead on this with a great deal of humility and many apologies.

    Anything less than that smacks of a political pay off, a cover up and numerous felons. I don’t care if Edgar did something similar - $54,000,000 is a lot of loot.

    None of this should be surprising either.

    Quinn looked like he was out the door in 2010. He was continually behind in the polls throughout the campaign season. It is only natural that Democratic supporters in his Chicago base of support would see the polling too, and expect that there would be a new governor to deal with in January 2011. It would be in their best interest to cut some kind of a deal with the outgoing governor for some kinds of money.

    It was in Quinn’s benefit to jump on this too. He needed the votes - and with this $54,000,000 of our money, he got the necessary edge over Brady.

    It is quite clear and logical that this happened, and why. Quinn needs to display a sense of responsibility over this rip off and fiasco.

  20. - Liandro - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:10 pm:

    Some will point to this as proof of Quinn’s incompetence, but I think actual corruption is being highlighted. He gets no pass on this as mere “bumbling”, not from me. A great cause (curbing horrific violence) being perverted into something corrupt.

  21. - thechampaignlife - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:16 pm:

    How has the Auditor’s office managed to stay above the corruption? Is it just as vulnerable or should we be emulating their structure elsewhere?

  22. - fed up - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:18 pm:

    Vanilla Man

    “If Quinn did this in good intent”

    he did it with good for him intent and the taxpayers picked up the tab.

  23. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:23 pm:

    $54,000,000 - That’s 1% of the state’s Backlog.

    Guess we’ll have a Gov race between 2 One-Percenters!!

    Who do I see to get my money back????

  24. - Cassandra - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    Is it just poor management. Or are state’s processes around making and monitoring grants so loosey-goosey that anything goes, such as paying a program coordinator $145k. Was this for full or part time work? Who would set those salaries–the state or the vendor. Are there any limits in the regs? And so forth.

    Not just Republican but Democratic legislators should insist on continued investigation of this boondoggle, and so should we citizens, not the least because Quinn is almost certainly going to hit us up for an extension of his income tax increase. In the end though, Quinn’s actions and even this apparent mismanagement of state funds may all turn out to be perfectly legal in this state of Illinois.

  25. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:32 pm:

    - Cassandra - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    On those kind of grants, it’s usually the vendor who divides up the spoils. They probably claimed it was full time work but you can bet it was part-time.

  26. - Soccermom - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:32 pm:

    47th — We disagree. It doesn’t stink more — it just makes you cry.

  27. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:41 pm:

    “But the really serious legal problems will likely be found in the middle and the bottom - perhaps some of the aldermen who recommended the agencies and any of the connected folks who got the grants.”

    Typical of Illinois. Blame poorly designed, politically motivated bad programs on the middle and lower management, but spare the Governor for making the incredibly bad decision to buy votes in the first place.

  28. - carbaby - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:52 pm:

    The salary is over two years. He made in salary about 52,000 one year and about 59,000 the next fiscal year- not 145,000 per year- and they are lumping fringe benefits as if he took home that money. This salary range for a Program Director position is within range of other comparable positions in other community non profit organizations. And believe me I’m not sticking up for the report- just saying that it’s a little deceiving to say someone banked that kind of money when it was really two years salary and benefits- not one. Now if that was for part time work- that’s a different story.

  29. - Sir Reel - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 2:53 pm:

    The fact that Quinn let the Aldermen pick the nonprofits says it all. This “program” was corrupt from the start.

  30. - MissSmartyPants - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    Soooo, what’s are AG doing about this?

  31. - Soccermom - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:07 pm:

    Carbaby — you’re right. It was way off base to call it a “six-figure salary.” I mean, by that logic, if you make 10 grand a year for 10 years, you’re pulling down six figures…

  32. - OldSmoky2 - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    It is true that there was a lot of pressure on the state to step in and do something at that time, even a lot of talk about the Illinois State Police and/or National Guard being sent in to some neighborhoods. And if there is wrongdoing that can be prosecuted, it’s likely going to be for things like misuse of grant money, and that will fall on people who got grants. That said, I wonder if there’s anything in the works to show where grants did do some good, and if we’ll hear from aldermen and community leaders who’ll point that out.

  33. - regular democrat - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:18 pm:

    Rich you are much too kind in your analysis.

  34. - Generation X - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:27 pm:

    Wow things sure have changed. In 1970 the Conservative Vice Lords got $275,000 in Federal Grants. Inflation considered that is only about 2 million in 2014 dollars.

    55 million was the motherload

  35. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:40 pm:

    With all of the ills of Pat Quinn, and the list is very long, and with all the “good” Pat Quinn will try and sell of as accomplishments, the bottom line is this specific fiasco has the potential to trump all the “good”, bad, history, and future, and could very well be the death knell, and ring from March 19th, through Spring, Summer, and Election Day.

    A defining political event, to say the least.

  36. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 3:57 pm:

    Good points, Rich.

    Wish we had the list of neighborhoods and their associated precincts in 2010, or at least the wards.

    The only I have heard for sure is 7th ward.

    Turnout was negligibly higher in 2010 than 2006 in the 7th, but Quinn actually performed 100 votes worse, barely breaking 90% of the vote.

    I am guessing there is scant data to back up the claim that Quinn bought the election for $50 million.

  37. - $54.5 Million - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 4:21 pm:

    Looks like Rauner, better start digging deeper in his pockets for more Cash. Looks like Quinn spent over $54 million the last election. I hope we don’t heat Quinn get on TV and say the reason the state is broke is because of the Pensions. Now we can all see where the Money is going. The Legislature wants more of the pension and tax money to spend on project like this. Somebody might want to let Rod know,he may have a new Cellie soon.

  38. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 4:34 pm:

    === Turnout was negligibly higher in 2010 than 2006 in the 7th, but Quinn actually performed 100 votes worse, barely breaking 90% of the vote. ===

    Which makes me wonder… what would his performance have been like without establishing this “outreach” shortly before the election?

    Would Quinn have performed 200 votes worse? 300? 500?

    Did he see this weakness in his polling?

    We cannot know for certain, any more than we can point to the fact Quinn performed 100 votes worse in that ward as evidence of his motives for or against the VRI program.

    This doesn’t make him guilty or innocent of anything. It just means he underperformed by 100 votes.

  39. - Soccermom - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 4:42 pm:

    Have any of the aldermen stepped up to say it worked in their wards?

  40. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 4:56 pm:

    === Some will point to this as proof of Quinn’s incompetence, but I think actual corruption is being highlighted. ===

    Therein lays the biggest problem for Quinn in all this.

    He is often portrayed as a well-meaning but somewhat incompetent politician.

    This portrays him as someone who knew exactly what he was doing.

  41. - primary - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 5:04 pm:

    Hey it is still not as bad as romner abusing all those seniors. My lord he has spent more on concomercials than improvements in all his nursing homes combined.

  42. - Rod - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 5:32 pm:

    Rich I thought your conclusions in your article that read “The idea here appeared to be to throw something - anything - together as quickly as he could to get the angry ministers and neighborhood leaders off his back. Allowing aldermen to pick the local agencies further ensured that the squeakiest wheels would be greased. What Quinn purchased wasn’t votes, it was peace with a powerful and important constituency. It got him out of the headlines. He was no longer part of the problem,” were basically correct.

    There is also simply no other way to try to do an anti-violence program other than using people in the community. Since we know the history of corruption in poor communities problems like what appeared in the audit should have been anticipated by the Quinn administration.

    As I have said in another post the worst part of the audit findings were the fact that the program assessment was never completed, so we all have no idea if even the basic presumptions of the program were valid. Its an incredibly bad development and it could lead to the death of all anti-violence type programing in Illinois. These programs had the support of both Republicans and Democrats at one time. As I have also posted Attorney General Ryan helped create the idea to begin with and now its being portrayed as a Democrat slush fund by Republicans.

  43. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 5:45 pm:

    @Formerly Known As:

    Just stop and think how ridiculous this argument is.

    The hypothesis of the argument being made by some extremists is that Quinn spent $50 million in five wards to buy the election.

    Ten million per ward. $200,000 per precinct.

    Oh, and apparently it involved someone so smart that they could conspire to rig an election with Alderman Sandi Jackson while she was under a federal microscope and not get caught.

    It is simply not credible.

    That doesn’t mean that questions should not be asked. Does not mean questions of competence in program goal, design, implementation or evaluation are out of bounds. Does not mean this story is not important or will not have political implications.

    I just think there is no basis for crying impeachment. As Rich points out, Jim Edgar was just more adept at using public dollars to influence elections, and Rauner certainly understands how to “spread the money around.”

    This is why I have said many times we need to move to a two-year appropriations process, with budgets passed in non-election years.

  44. - Generation X - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 6:59 pm:

    Playing the role of Brett is Pat Quinn. NSFW

  45. - Oh Come On! - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 7:03 pm:

    @Yellow Dog:

    Dorothy Brown has transformed her office into a patronage army. Have you notice how often she tries to run for higher offices in Cook County? She has made unsuccessful bids for Chicago Mayor and Cook County President. Her inability to win these races does not change the fact that she has assembled a precinct organization capable of working the streets and knocking on doors. I do not think it was purely accidental that the Quinn program hired Brown’s husband in 2010.

  46. - Generation X - Monday, Mar 10, 14 @ 7:13 pm:

    Dorothy Brown + Sandi Jackson + 55 million= prima facie case of corruption

  47. - concern1 - Tuesday, Mar 11, 14 @ 4:24 am:

    Totally agree with Liandro…the only words I can up with to describe quin are….incompetent….corrupt….worthless!!!

  48. - vttk17a1 - Tuesday, Mar 11, 14 @ 9:08 am:

    On another note…

    Someone is up to something….

    Word is going around in tech circles about several school districts receiving Freedom of Information Requests to search their E-mail databases for communications from anyone to anyone containing the keyword “DILLARD” date 2/13/14 or later. Lots of angst about renting custom software to try to meet these requests. What is up with that?

  49. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 11, 14 @ 9:26 am:

    –Lots of angst about renting custom software to try to meet these requests. What is up with that?–

    You seem to know, why don’t you spit it out?

  50. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 11, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    –Have any of the aldermen stepped up to say it worked in their wards?–

    I suspect the “right to remain silent” is in play here.

    Father Pfleger was on the news last night defending the program. I doubt that helps Quinn with anyone that it needs to.

    This will be Rauner’s “Willie Horton” spot, and it will be devastating.

    His only concern will be not to be so overtly racist as Ailes was as to create a backlash.

  51. - vttk17a1 - Tuesday, Mar 11, 14 @ 9:37 am:

    To be clear, I understand the “what” creating the angst. Techies don’t like surprises. These kinds of requests don’t happen very often.

    Now they have to find money to rent software to meet this request. Money that was not budgeted.

    My “Whats up with that?” question has to do with “who” is asking for this information and the “purpose” behind the request. That is what I do not know. Sorry to be unclear.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Catherine Rampell: For millennials, first comes love — then what?
* Springfield police chief sees problems with body cam law
* Lawsuit challenges Illinois ban on marijuana campaign money

* 48th Annual Turkey Trot
* Podcast: Champaign County States Attorney Julia Rietz 11-26-15
* Wednesday's highlights: Nottingham, Chargers get first win
* Clubs listings, Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 2015
* Area update: Soup kitchen needs help with backpack giveaway
* Frank's Faves: Giving thanks
* Golf links swap hits roadblock
* Chuck Koplinski: Beautiful 'Brooklyn' a love story for the ages
* Update on candidate filings in Vermilion County for 2016
* 80th N-G All-State Football: POY Josh King

* No. 7 Baylor, No. 15 TCU rivalry intense with mutual success
* Russia, France agree to tighten cooperation against IS
* Washington's Chris Petersen signs 2-year contract extension
* Arlington Heights hosts homestyle Thanksgiving for Naval recruits
* Utah man passes airport security with stolen boarding pass

* House lawmakers overcome hurdle on key tra...
* Rodney Davis talks funding with Bloomingto...
* The agency that fought Illiana gets a new ...
* Rep. Dold takes educational cruise down Ch...
* Lawmakers decry high turnover rate of VA h...
* CBD Oil, and politics
* Simon considering state Senate bid
* Killer Congressman Tom MacArthur trying to...
* Shutdown? State may not notice
* Rep. Bob Dold

* Nebraska ethanol producers name former Dur......

* Opinion: Sen. Kirk must stand with crimina......

* Chicago Teachers Union. “If we strike, we do so to protect our children,” says Karen Jennings Lewis.
* Resign.
* Don't Let The Turkeys Get You Down
* “The Driver’s Side” – News From The Motorist’s Perspective
* IDOT Debuts Winter Weather Driving Tips Video
* Pot Dangerous? Mother's Testimony Says Yes [video]
* Happy Thanksgiving
* It seems like it’s everywhere, that video of the final moments of Laquan’s life
* Laquan McDonald.
* Sixteen shots. The story that broke the silence.

* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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