Ed Koch, Former Mayor And Bellicose Voice Of New York, Dies

Friday, February 01, 2013



That's how New York was commonly described when Edward I. Koch became mayor in 1978. The blackout riots and Son of Sam killings were fresh memories, Times Square was a crossroads of porn and prostitution, and graffiti-scrawled subway trains crawled through crime-afflicted neighborhoods, if those trains weren't breaking down.

Koch decided that what the city needed was a leader with an active will and gigantic personality. Specifically, his.

You'd see him everywhere: On TV and at community meetings, astride the Brooklyn Bridge with the commuting masses during a transit strike and throwing out the first ball at Shea Stadium, to mingled cheers and boos. His nasal hectoring and pressed-forward posture became the sound and style of the city during the 12 years of his three terms in office. On his watch, the budgetary bleeding was stanched and the municipal books were balanced. And New York City began to show faint glimmers of recovery.


It describes Koch himself--at least his political persona. Whereas many elected officials exude blandness to avoid offending voters, Koch enjoyed telling people off. When asked at a mayoral press conference whether the city had a moral obligation to build housing for the homeless, Koch first disputed the benefit to be gained from the cost of such a commitment. Then he couldn't resist adding, "It boggles my mind that people can say these idiotic things. It's idiotic. IDIOTIC."

A gaffe to almost any other politician was his normal way of speaking.

In his most famous saying, Koch seemed to elide the city and himself: "How'm I doin'?!" He'd shout it at people walking down the street, as if inviting them to cheer for him, the city and themselves. Most obliged by laughing and calling back something positive. A few flipped him off, but they were outnumbered, probably, by those who flashed thumbs up.

A Bronx Boy

Koch was born in the Bronx in 1924 and grew up in Newark during The Great Depression. He saw combat as an infantryman in World War II. In 1963, he was a member of the Greenwich Village Independent Democrats when he took on power broker Carmine DeSapio in a long-shot race for district leader--and won.

A natural campaigner, Koch won a seat in Congress in 1969. He served four terms and then beat Mario Cuomo in the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary before winning Gracie Mansion.

He surprised those who thought it impossible that a downtown liberal could connect with outer borough conservatives. Koch did it by stressing law and order, as in these remarks at a swearing-in of a new police academy class in the 1980s: "I think you, the cops, you are the salt of the earth. You are the people who make it possible for civilization to continue. This is a sick society, there are a lot of lunatics out there, there are people bent on killing all of us and you're the ones who stop it."

Throw Him Off The Bridge

Lunatics, addicts and arsonists: They defined large parts of Koch's New York. The mayor battled them, and others, with gusto and aggression. Tempers flared, in particular, during the 11-day transit strike of 1980. The mayor famously walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour and took sides against the Transport Workers Union. That didn't sit well with one subway worker. "The people of New York, when they find out the facts, I hope and I pray, they will turn around, pick him up bodily and throw him off the bridge," the worker told a WNYC reporter.

Koch's third term, from 1986 to 1989, was marked by scandal. His friend and ally, Queens borough president Donald Manes, was accused of extortion in arranging contracts with the city’s Parking Violations Bureau. Manes committed suicide by stabbing himself in the heart as the federal government prepared to have him indicted.

More bribery and conspiracy cases followed. Koch tried to downplay the problems at a 1986 press conference. "There's corruption," he told reporters. "There's been corruption, as I've said on so many occasions, since Adam and Eve and the two gorillas who came before them." He paused to let his display of moral reasoning sink in, before blurting, "Some of you may be corrupt!"

The mayor wasn't implicated in selling favors for personal gain, but the train of criminal charges took a toll on his administration. So did stubborn social ills like homelessness, AIDS and police brutality, especially during the Tompkins Square police riot of 1988.

At the same time, Ed Koch presided over an economic comeback while embodying a newly confident New York. Newspaper columnist Pete Hamill described him as "a combination of a Lindy's waiter, a Coney Island barker, a Catskill comedian, an irritated school principal and an eccentric uncle."

From Off-Broadway to Queensboro Bridge

Koch lost to David Dinkins in the Democratic mayoral primary of 1989. Out of office, he published, Mayor!, a best-selling book that became an Off-Broadway play, reviewed movies and even served as a judge on "The People's Court."

He never married, and often responded to questions about his presumed homosexuality with profane refusals to comment. And he never stopped politicking. At 85, Koch launched a crusade to shame Albany politicians who didn't agree to tighten ethics rules. He traveled the state urging voters to throw out the "bums" who opposed his reforms. The campaign drew widespread media coverage but fell short of Koch's goals.

In 2010, the city announced it would put Edward I. Koch's name on the Queensboro Bridge. That pleased the former mayor. “There are other bridges that are more beautiful, like the GW or the Verrazano, but this more suits my personality cause it’s a workhorse bridge," he told WNYC. "I mean, it’s always busy. It ain’t beautiful but it is durable.”

The last word on Koch goes to Koch himself, who had the foresight to write his own epitaph: "He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith, he fiercely loved the people of the city of New York and he fiercely defended the city of New York."

Ed Koch as a baby
Mayor! the musical poster
Koch watch
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Ed Koch and David Dinkins at Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City address at Morris High School on January 12, 2012 in the Bronx
NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Daily News front page dated Sept. 20, 1977
Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Mayor Ed Koch on Ninth Ave. and 36th street in 1982 after declaring Saturday and Sunday as Ninth Avenue International Festival Days.
Jack Smith/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Mayor Ed Koch rededicates Sixth Avenue to Avenue of Americas in 1984
Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Mayor Ed Koch rides the subway
JP Yim/Getty Images
Ed Koch celebrates at the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge in his honor at The Water Club Restaurant on May 19, 2011


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Comments [52]

John from Houston Street, Manhattan

The Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge should be renamed the Ed Koch Closet Queensborough Bridge.

Aug. 18 2013 12:19 AM
Ro Ho

I was at a street fair in Manhattan in the 1980's at a time when Koch was running for reelection as Mayor. He was addressing a group of people there when someone started to heckle him. He tried ignoring it, but became so intrusive that one could see he was looking for words to put the guy in his place. Seemingly frustrated at first, he the noticed a vendor deep-frying food and his demeanor brightened. Pointing his finger, he said to the heckler, "Shut up, or I'll boil you in oil."

Feb. 03 2013 02:33 PM
fuva from harlemworld

john from the office, thanks a lot.

Feb. 03 2013 09:18 AM
Neil from Austin

Ed Koch impressed me as a bitter closeted queen who sublimated his frustrations into a dislike of Muslims. The Iranian-American in me recoiled when I first heard some of his nasty comments.

Feb. 02 2013 12:09 AM
Melissa from Brooklyn

I think it's worth looking up his comment on the New York Athletic Club and its ban on admitting women.

Feb. 01 2013 08:10 PM
Jerry Metz from Freehold, NJ

"I believe God created evolution." -- Ed Koch

Feb. 01 2013 07:32 PM
Scott E. Bayou from NYC

To use a word he himself often used about others A SCHMUCK!!! The media loved to blame David Dinkins, who granted, had his problems managing the City, but it was Koch who oversaw a City whose murder rate swelled to almost 2,000 murders a year. That does not even address the random robberies, rapes and other crimes that led hundreds of thousands to leave NYC. He talked a good game about " boiling criminals in oil" to appeal to white ethnics in the outer boroughs but ultimately was useless in this area. He was fine in dealing with budget matters, was loyal to his ethnic/religious/ancestral homeland of Israel and was a very smart fellow. I also think he was a frustrated and closeted homosexual. THAT SAID, he was too arrogant and got to believe the press rather than reality. As a real New Yorker, I did identify with him in my teens and yes he made us proud to be New Yorkers as he was one of us. He spoke like a New Yorker, had served in the Army and was not afraid to speak his mind. As an adult looking back I realize he was an egomaniac panderer. Sadly, like the current little dictator he thought far too much of himself and his negatives outweighed his positives. They both self servingly and wrongly changed the term limit laws, so they willl both go down in history as a COUPLE OF SCHMUCKS!!!

Feb. 01 2013 05:40 PM
Joe Marchitto from Lakewood, NJ

In the early 1980's I was at a performance of the NY Philharmonic in Central Park. The evening had turned unexpectedly cold and blustery for July, and between pieces, Mayor Koch took the stage. He addressed the crowd of 80,000, most of whom by now had wrapped their picnic blankets around them. In an excited voice, he announced, "I have good news for you! Cuddling is legal! Cuddling is legal!" As he left the stage, we howled in appreciation of our great mayor and his gift to us of a truly unique New York moment.

Feb. 01 2013 04:56 PM
Neil Platt from Glen Ridge, New Jersey

Many years ago I catered a dinner party at a prominent New Yorker's Eastside apartment. Ed Koch was one of the guests and my first impression of him was how tall he was. Then when Dr. Ruth Westheimer walked in and greeted the Mayor, I had to resist the urge to lift her up so she wouldn't have to strain to look up to him. I also remember him coming into the kitchen and making small talk about how much he loved Chinese food. There was surely a lovable quality about him.

Feb. 01 2013 04:45 PM
Cynthia Fraley from Nyc

As much as I had a lot of admiration for him I wish he had employed some courage in dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis as it took hold here in NYC. He was in a position to challenge the Reagan administrations complete lack of action and by his silence quite possibly contributed to a higher number of deaths at a critical point in time.

Feb. 01 2013 04:43 PM
Steve from Stuyvesant Town

In the early 70's I was working downtown near City Hall. I used to stop in a Chock Full of Nuts near Worth Street for coffee on my way to the office. One November morning after an election, there was Ed Koch in line in front of me waiting to buy coffee. He had just been re-elected to Congress. I congratulated him and he thanked me with his beaming smile.

Feb. 01 2013 04:08 PM
Paul from nyc

It was an early Saturday morning in 1979 I was taking my young son to the east 72nd playground in Central Park on the pathway walking towards us much to my surprise was Mayor Koch we excanged greeting, I ask my son to say hello to the Mayor. My son looked at the Mayor then turned to me and ask "Whats a Mayor" with that Mayor Koch smiled that BIG SMILE of his waved his hand and wished us a fun day as he walked on.

Feb. 01 2013 02:46 PM
pfrishauf from Manhattan

Here's a link to a nice letter I got from Rep. Ed Koch in 1973 concerning bicycle lanes in New York City: a forward thinker for so many years:

Feb. 01 2013 02:41 PM
Theresa from Brooklyn

Sad to lose anyone, but I can't get too carried away with praise for someone who was so antipathetic to the city workers, and anyone who wasn't white.

Feb. 01 2013 02:07 PM
ann from New York

As a fellow Jew,he made me proud to be a Jew. He didn't flount his Jewishness, but he certainly let everyone know that he was Jewish. He gave the city back its pride.

Feb. 01 2013 01:44 PM
oscar from ny

Mr Ed Koch will be missed.
As a kid i was awarded by the city and mayor Koch in the Tokyo art exchange student program and also for a consumer art poster.
Anyway im just saying that Ed Koch took the time to award the kids of NY and the schools and i will always be grateful for the opportunity to show off my talent to my city and community.
I hope all mayors could contribute to the education experience NYC offers and stop attacking the wonder the devil possesses these kids nowadays, its because they enjoy the liberty of the politicians who are obtuse to the idea of a better well being for all of us..

Feb. 01 2013 01:25 PM
Suzanne Bruner

Mayor Koch was a good guy. I felt he was assessible. He had a good sense of humor and was a committed leader. I will miss his voice. I will miss him on the scene.

Feb. 01 2013 01:10 PM
john from office

FUVA, you are a fair woman. I admire that.

Feb. 01 2013 12:06 PM
Oldersachem01 from Hudson County, NJ

He took over a torpedoed ship of Gotham and worked tirelessly to refloat her. He cajoled the citizenry as if they were the crew (which they were), and gave little quarter for disagreement. He promoted direct dialogue with all persons unlike all of his predecessors. He didn't read the funnies on the radio, but he allowed himself to become the human caricature of New York. He was way too self satisfied to be a rabbi, but the greatest mensch the city ever knew. Those who hated him for his flamboyance missed his point and his greatest contribution: in an age when everyone thought New York would explode he humanized its dimensions and made it possible to think of each other with forebearance. How do we sing Kaddish for someone who has become part of us?

Feb. 01 2013 12:04 PM
fuva from harlemworld

fuva from harlemworld
Hey, As exemplified by his overreaching redistricting campaign, Koch did not understand and was not an ally of my community. But the news today hit me like a sledgehammer...I knew he was in and out of the hospital, and 88. But I just was not expecting it…

…In the 80s, the slumlord who owned my building abandoned it and stopped paying taxes. The tenants – intergenerational, economically excluded renters – banded together and salvaged and managed the building. Soon, the City entered us in a program that would grant us ownership after several years if the landlord did not pay the taxes. In an unprecedented move, they left us self-managed because we were so effective. We rehabilitated and revived the building, often with our own hands. But, after 6 successful years, and TWO WEEKS before we were to get the deed, Koch’s administration transferred the property to a THIRD PARTY who was allowed to pay JUST A PORTION OF the back taxes…

Years later, Koch “adjudicated” a case between my cousin and aunt on the “People’s Court” TV show. And, for whatever reason, he took a particular interest in them, chatting them up big time. These three very strong personalities from different sides of the tracks really hit it off that day…

The latter in no way compensates for the former. But it goes to show how functional our common humanity can and should be.

Mr. Mayor, nevertheless, God Bless.

Feb. 01 2013 12:00 PM
kevin from ULS

....."we're not doin" thank god..

Feb. 01 2013 11:58 AM
Susan R. from West Village

Aw, I'm sorry to see you go, Mayor Koch. I won't say RIP because why would you rest?

I loved how you personified New York. Funny, warm, brash. Willing to speak out and make a mistake. Thank your for your presence and your many gifts to the City.

Feb. 01 2013 11:30 AM
John from Houston Street, Manhattan

Koch was a petty, vulgar, bigoted little man, mean-spirited, vindictive, and egomaniacal, willfully, gleefully and maliciously racist, mentally unbalanced, New York City's worst mayor since World War II, a disgrace to our city, our state and our country.

Feb. 01 2013 11:19 AM
Holly Lance from West Village

Many years ago Ed used to write film reviews for The Villager.
I remember one film in particular that recieved mostly rave reviews. After seeing it I was totoally perplexed as I founf this film to be simply awful. I made an attempt to find just one reviewer that agreed. I was so thrilled to find that there was one reviewer that agreed with me . That was Ed Koch. I sent a letter to his %th ave apartment, explaining my confusion about the great reviews and thanking him for having the same opinion of this film . I was shocked when I actually recieved a response from him !!!!! That was about 20 years ago before we were all emailing .

Holly Lance

Feb. 01 2013 11:15 AM
Daniel Freeman from Lefferts Gardens Brooklyn

Back in the 80's when I was a cab driver in New York, I'll never forget the installation of the unusual "Don't Even THINK of Parking Here" No Parking signs. Clearly they ring of the former Mayor's voice, signs that I think still , and probably always will, add to the personality of this city. Koch clearly made his mark, all the way down to the signage in the streets.

Feb. 01 2013 11:13 AM

Does anybody else remember, during the water shortage, "if it's yellow, let it mellow / if it's brown, flush it down"?

Feb. 01 2013 11:12 AM
Michael Trullinger from Montclair, NJ

Years ago, I was managing the cheese counter at Fairway Market on Broadway. Ed Koch was a regular. He was a fan of the more, “aggressive” cheeses, one of his favorites was an English washed rind beauty called; Stinking Bishop. One day while serving him, a group of young Asian tourists, asked him to autograph their umbrella. He graciously obliged. He then turned to me and said: “I’ve been asked to sign many things, but never an umbrella” Always a true gentleman.

Feb. 01 2013 11:02 AM
Tom from Lower East Side

Good riddance!

Feb. 01 2013 10:59 AM
hk from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Ed Koch has been rightly praised for his work in improving public housing and turning NYC around during a fiscal crisis.

However, I have to register my dismay that there has been barely any mention of the racial tensions during his tenure as mayor. Let's not forget Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpurs, and Michael Griffith, among others. The deaths at the hands of the police of Michael Stewart, arrested for graffiti, and Eleanor Bumpurs, a mentally ill woman armed with a knife who was being evicted. Michael Griffith was killed by a white mob in Howard Beach, and two other men were killed by white mobs during that period: Willie Turks and Yusuf Hawkins. These deaths were followed by riots.

It was a troubled and troubling time for blacks in New York. Please don't white-wash this history.

Thank you.

Feb. 01 2013 10:36 AM
John Wolff from Trenton, New Jersey

In 1978 I was a 27 year old, newly minted attorney working in the City’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In the course of my work I developed a proposal to petition the Federal government to allow the City to decrease “maintenance of effort” spending requirements in annual increments, simultaneously as the City was being made incrementally to tighten its accounting standards.

The proposal made its way up the chain, until it wound up in a package of materials on Mayor Koch’s desk. Within a few days, I received a lengthy hand-written note from the Mayor, thanking me for my work, telling me what he learned from it and exhorting me to “keep up the good work.”

This was vintage Ed Koch as CEO, I learned, as such a personal thank you and encouragement was not rare from him. Neither were his dropping into a Municipal Building office and asking the staff at their desks “his signature “how’m I doin?” We loved him; he was affectionately “Ed” to everyone from the Director of Management and Budget to the copy-room clerk. His esprit de corps for and love of “his” City was infectious…and we all felt it.

Feb. 01 2013 10:24 AM
Gary from Greenwich Village

So when will Paul Simon rewrite the 59th Street Bridge song to reflect its current name the Mayor Ed Koch Bridge?

Feb. 01 2013 10:09 AM
John from Wantagh

Maybe heard this morning, at the Pearly Gates:
"So, How'd I Do?"

Feb. 01 2013 10:01 AM
Theresa from Ridgewood, NY

My family will remember our Mayor Koch for all he brought and gave to New York City but most especially we will always recall the occasion of my mother's 85th birthday. The Mayor pulled up a chair to our table in a neighborhood restaurant to join us in a verse of Happy Birthday. When we were through with our roaring rendition he stood and in his grand style hugged and kissed her. My mother thanked him for his warm wishes and said "well Mr. Mayor, you made my day".

Feb. 01 2013 09:49 AM
A. H. Saxon from Fairfield, CT

Ed Koch, for some reason, always reminded me of a Jewish leprechaun. Has anyone considered freeze-drying him? He would make a wonderful exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York or, perhaps, City Hall. Forget about the Queensborn Bridge!

Feb. 01 2013 09:45 AM
BklynSue from Crown Heights Born and Bred

This morning we lost a man that was a true representative of New York. A man who represented New York City when “The Deuce” wasn’t an imitation Disney World, when tokens were used for the turnstile and colorful graffiti was the art of our town; the New York that defined "New Yawkers" and made us who we are today! RIP Mayor Ed Koch.

Feb. 01 2013 09:42 AM
Joanne from Park Slope

My husband gave a 40th birthday party for me at Carmine's uptown. Ed Koch was dining there that night (he was a huge foodie), and as he walked through the restaurant to leave, the whole place applauded. A true larger than life character. RIP.

Feb. 01 2013 09:38 AM
m from ny

Ed Koch turned his back to us.

Feb. 01 2013 09:35 AM
City Island Images from New York City, NY

"Beleaguered and tired" were the last words he used to explain how he felt, according to his spokesman George Arzt, who says Koch died Friday morning of congestive heart failure.

He was 88 and served as a congressman, a judge and never married. He was doing fine until the arrival of his time.

Edward Irving "Ed" Koch was a lawyer, a politician, and commentator. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and three terms as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989.

Koch was proud of his Jewish faith and fiercely fought for the people of New York City. As a news reporter, I had several opportunities to meet him and I can honestly say there ought to be more politicians who are as direct as he was.

City Island Images -

Feb. 01 2013 09:33 AM
Karen from Manhattan

I moved to NYC at the end of 1978, so he was my first mayor. I really appreciated that he chose to enforce the pooper scooper laws and I wish it was as strongly enforced today. In 1984 I lived on the top floor of a loft building on Avenue D. In August of 1985 "Operation Pressure Point" was in full swing in Alphabet City of the East Village. My loft-mates and I witnessed evening helicopter sweeps over the rooftops and heavy police presence on the streets. Because of this, at a summer party on the roof of our building, I always felt that Mayor Koch inadvertently provided the lighting as a helicopter shone a "spotlight" on my husband and I as we announced our engagement to our friends.

Feb. 01 2013 09:11 AM

A few years ago I read an article about Ed Koch that mentioned that he always personally answered every email he received. I sent him one and he did answer me. It wasn't short and it wasn't generic and it just made me smile. Rest in Peace Mr. never shyed from a good argument. I liked your style and honesty

Feb. 01 2013 09:07 AM
Norm from The Village (of course.)

A classic, imperious, brilliant, wisecracking New Yorker. He lived around the corner and spoke at our shul. His dinner parties were famous, with assigned topics and timed remarks from his guests. Regarding his withdrawal from politics after he lost his bid to run for a 4th term as mayor: " The People have spoken. And now They must be punished."

Feb. 01 2013 09:03 AM
john from office

I served as a police officer when Mayor Koch was in office. He turned this city around and was a friend and a brother to the police. May he rest in peace, I hope they serve Chinese food in Heaven.

Feb. 01 2013 09:02 AM
Robert from Manhattan

Silence = Death. Enjoy your closet in the sky!

Feb. 01 2013 09:01 AM

Forty years ago I saw Ed Koch for the first time. I was having dinner in the lamented Ruc Restaurant in Yorkville (still the best duck I've eaten). He walked into the garden at the rear of the restaurant. He seemed to occupy a different reality, larger than life: tall, slim, tan, smiling, animated, radiant.

Feb. 01 2013 08:55 AM
marlene lamm spigner from cafe des artistes, NYC

Decades ago, I was dining at Cafe des Artistes. Ed Koch was at the next table. A young boy, about 10, with pen and paper in hand, shyly asked the Mayor, "Can I have your autograph? I am Bobby.""
Ed Koch stood, shook the boy's hand.
" Of course, that is if I can have your signature, too". . Bobby and Ed each each signed their names, and Bobby with the broadest smile, skipped back to his table proudly showing his parents the new acquisition.
It was unclear what Ed did with Bobby's signature.

Feb. 01 2013 08:53 AM
Sharon Smith from Manhattan

I photographed Ed Koch at an art event celebrating sanitation workers in the mid-80's. I sent him a print and I received a note from him saying among other things, "Even I was surprised at how good I look"..

Feb. 01 2013 08:53 AM
Brendan Sexton from nyc

A great Mayor, a wonderful boss, a real New Yorker through and through, a mensch. He did good; making New York safer and more livable, making the public conversation brighter and more honest, making our lives richer and a lot more fun. i miss him already.

Feb. 01 2013 08:46 AM
JKL from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

I was at a campaign event back when Koch first ran for Mayor - they threw fortune cookies out to the crowd, and I still have the fortune which reads:


Feb. 01 2013 08:09 AM
Marilyn Stolove from Plainview, Long Island

New York will miss him and Jews were proud of him.

Feb. 01 2013 07:56 AM
Ed from Larchmont

In a dark time he presented hope.

Feb. 01 2013 07:54 AM
Barbara Fisher

Strange to hear my memories of Greenwich Village on the radio this morning. I celebrated my 21st birthday by registering to vote. Then I joined the Village Independent Democrats. I was so much younger than the other members that no one took me seriously, but like the other members I was desperate to get rid of DeSapio and Tammany Hall. We petitioned for our candidates in pairs. My memory of Ed Koch was walking the streets with him, ringing doorbells, talking talking talking to each other and the residents and then going to breakfast. There are bagel people and bialy people. Ed Koch and I were bialy people. The real ones that were made daily on the lower east side, warm, fragrant with onion and covered with butter and a 'schmear' of cream cheese.

Feb. 01 2013 07:41 AM
n, mcnamara from rockland, co ny

he was a real good man,he did not hide when times were tuff. new york will miss him. People who are in office now could not even shine [ ED KOCH ] SHOES. He had one bad point, he was a mets fan.

Feb. 01 2013 06:44 AM

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