A Welcoming Village

img_6486As thousands in the LGBTQ community prepare for Pride celebrations across the country, I’ll take a moment to reflect on what it means for a municipality to be welcoming and inclusive. On June 20, I proposed that the Village of Ossining become the first municipality in NYS to establish a Gender Neutral Signage Policy for restrooms. Village Corporation Counsel is drafting a resolution for us to vote on that will formalize the policy at an upcoming Village Board meeting.

For me, this is an example of when you know better, you do better. Gender neutral bathrooms came up as a topic during a recent Ossining Documentary & Discussion Series program. Panelists shared experiences of having to wait all day to find a bathroom option that welcomed them. I learned then that Ossining High School has committed to installing a gender neutral bathroom in their facility, and I realized that perhaps there is a role for Village government to play in improving the lives of transgender and gender neutral people.

We are identifying locations at Village facilities where we currently have single person bathrooms–typically these are either ADA or family bathrooms. The first signage to be updated will be in the lobby of Village Hall. As we upgrade municipal facilities going forward, when it is feasible to incorporate single person bathrooms, the gender neutral signage will be installed there as well.

This is a simple policy that sends a strong message to the LGBTQ community–all are welcome in Ossining.

Reelection Underway

Headshot #6Monday night the Ossining Democratic Committee endorsed my reelection with resounding clarity. With that first political hurdle under my belt, I’m turning my campaign focus to individual voters.

Great things are happening for Ossining. I’d like to build on our momentum. The Village has a clear set of recommendations for strengthening our economic strategy and our affordable housing policies. Key priorities were highlighted for us by the community-led Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee. The recent Village Housing Needs Assessment drew heavily on community engagement and empirical data. It recommends a policy framework where step one is an effective economic development strategy and step two is strengthening code enforcement. Ossining needs Village government to move forward decisively with implementing these priorities.

As I reflect on these first two terms as Mayor, are there moments where I wish I could get a re-do? You bet. Have I learned from my experience in office? You bet! I dedicate myself to this job full-time, and everyday I learn more about our community and how to serve it well. My teachers are Ossining residents, community leaders, municipal officials and staff, local first responders, and activists and experts throughout the region. Ossining Village and Town share services in almost every department, and the relationship between our two teams is better than ever.

The accomplishments of my tenure as Mayor that I’m most proud of are related to communications. Initiatives like Open Office Hours and Weekly Walks have dramatically increased accessibility, allowing me to connect with residents in less formal settings. Improved transparency of our public meetings began by creating our Village YouTube Channel that resulted from a simple request I made to our technology department. And the change to keep cameras rolling during Visitor Recognition ensures that when residents speak with their officials during a Legislative Session, the whole community can hear their concerns. The Monday Mayor’s Message helps residents understand the context of agenda items and updates readers on key initiatives being considered by the Board. The launch of the new Village website was a long time coming. It is already making information easier to locate, and plans are underway to expand its value for residents with online fillable forms, online payments, and friendlier access to materials up for consideration by the Board of Trustees.

Serving as your Mayor is a responsibility I take seriously, and an honor I appreciate deeply. It’s my job to represent the needs of all Ossining residents–whether you have lived here five generations or five months, whether you are a tenant or a landlord, a millennial or a retiree, a business owner or a fellow parent. The best part of being a candidate is that it can prompt conversations about our community and our priorities that might not otherwise happen. I look forward to the thoughtful and constructive parts of campaigning. If I knock on your door or show up at your favorite community event, tell me what matters most to you about Ossining and please ask me any questions you have about Village government. Together let’s build on the great things happening in Ossining.


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Victoria Gearity, Mayor

The Final Straw?

Peekskill Vigil no filterThank you to Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey for the invitation to participate in tonight’s Community Vigil. Ossining residents are planning a March For Our Lives event for 12noon on March 24 at our waterfront. I hope you and your colleagues from Peekskill will be able to join us.

Below are the remarks I shared at the Peekskill waterfront this evening…

Most people are not extremists. Yet it grows increasingly difficult for us to hear each other. If we are unwilling to acknowledge that views and life experiences different from our own have merit, how can we possibly find a path to someplace better than where we are today?

For generations now the NRA has grown stronger and stronger. Meanwhile, state and federal officials have grown more and more dependent on funding from lobbyists. And the success of lobbyists depends on us being increasingly divided.

If your job is to sell more guns, then the solution to every problem is more guns. And in a moment when we talk more than we listen, and marginalize more than we validate, and divide more than we unite, we fail to even seek solutions that will address the root of any problem. Instead, we may attempt to protect ourselves by building barriers to a threat, and throw up our hands believing, for example, that America will never have fewer guns.

As our hearts ache again for the families of the latest shooting victims, are we, perhaps, witnessing a moment when the collective conscience may shift? As the White House inspires activism as never before in my lifetime, will the Florida teens be the final straw that our nation needs? Will the prevailing wisdom shift to a narrative that says what we need is less guns, and more regulation? Will the young voices breaking through today, lead us to a future where a gun license is comparable to a drivers license?

My God, I hope so. There are powerful voices in our government and media today that claim we need to arm our teachers. There are parents in my community, and all our communities, that want every school to become a fortress. Putting aside whether bullet-proof glass and guns in the classroom are the best way to spend education dollars–school buildings are not the only place where I want my children to be safe. I want my sons to be safe on the soccer field, and at the mall, and at a summer concert in a park on the waterfront.

May each of us walk away from this gathering and take action, small or big. But take action, as if all our lives depend on it.

Community Connections

Walking the waterfrontOne of the most enjoyable additions to my work as Mayor this year has been the Weekly Walks. Later this month the Board of Trustees Office will have a new decoration–a map of the Village with a bunch of streets highlighted. This will help me keep track of how close I am to my goal of walking every block of the Village.

I sure am enjoying the journey. Thanks to all the folks who have joined me. Sometimes we chat and pause more than walk; sometimes we walk briskly uphill. On every walk, I learn from my fellow walkers and the streets themselves. There has been only one week canceled from rain, though we’ve walked in sprinkles a couple of times. Occasionally I walk on my own. I welcome the solitude as much as the comradery. Thanks to all the repeat walkers and one-time adventurers. It’s a real pleasure to explore our community together.

One of the more challenging, and sometimes divisive, conversations this year has been on the roundabout. After 20 months of considering the pros and cons, and bringing the design documents to the point of being ready to go out to bid, the Board defunded the project. Here’s a letter I wrote reflecting on this topic. While the roundabout is on the shelf for now, the Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee is working diligently to prepare recommendations on the much broader question of how to move forward redevelopment of our downtown.

Do you receive an email from me every Monday? If not, send me a quick message (gearity@villageofossining.org) telling me to sign you up. Here’s a list of past Monday Mayor Messages. I established this practice of weekly communication at the start of this year. It’s proving to be an effective way to keep folks informed about what the Board is up to, as well as announcing when and where each Weekly Walk will happen!


Our Strength is in our Unity of Purpose

peace-unity-vigilTonight Ossining came together with messages of peace and unity. Here are the words I shared:

I am honored and proud to be the Mayor of this beautiful Village, and to be here tonight with all of you!

I find inspiration and guidance in the words of great leaders whose influence has contributed to who our nation is today. I’d like to share quotes from two New Yorkers. The first was an immigrant who came to NYC to attend college. At the time of our nation’s founding, Alexander Hamilton published these words:

The world has its eye upon America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty, has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment…

Let those in whose hands it is placed, pause for a moment, and contemplate with an eye of reverence, the vast trust committed to them… Let them ask themselves this solemn question— Is the sacrifice of a few mistaken, or criminal individuals, an object worthy of the shifts to which we are reduced to evade the constitution and the national engagements?

Then let them review the arguments that have been offered with dispassionate candour; and if they even doubt the propriety of the measures, they may be about to adopt, let them remember, that in a doubtful case, the constitution ought never to be hazarded, without extreme necessity.

In a moment when the world was facing war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these words:

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions…

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

Things are Happening for Ossining

img_2040Every year at noon on New Year’s Day, the Ossining community comes together for an inauguration. The time and date is actually dictated by the Village Charter. The fact that we make what could be the recitation of a few words into a community event, is one the things that makes Ossining special.

In my remarks, I announced a new mayoral weekly commitment, and set out a vision for the exciting changes we are poised to make happen for Ossining. Two of the hottest topics of public engagement last year, housing and the roundabout, are part of the economic development planning that will be the focus for 2017. The Village is at an exciting moment, poised to make changes for our downtown that will impact our community for generations to come.

Happy New Year!

This year I asked my parents to join me on stage for the Oath of Office. My parents are the greatest role models in my life, not just because they are wonderful loving parents, but because of their dedication to public service. Regardless of whether they were raising young children, or commuting to NYC for work each day, they have always devoted their time and talents to community organizations. And not just things directly related to our family like school or church. They did that of course. But they also volunteer with organizations that speak to their values—like programs for children, seniors, local history, healthcare, education, and women’s rights. My mother was asked to run for local office a number of times, but always declined. My father retired at a young age, and for the past 18 years has made a full-time job of volunteering for community organizations. If it were not for their inspiring examples, I know I would never have run for mayor.img_2038


I am fortunate to share the stage with a number of elected officials who are also role models and mentors for me today. One study I recently learned of demonstrated that the healthiest, happiest, and safest lives are lived by Americans in Villages where their lives are intertwined. That’s good news for Ossining residents, and particularly for all the engaged community members in this room today.


As many Americans feel ever more impotent at influencing the path of our nation, we recognize there is a place where we can make a difference. We are turning toward each other, and seeking to devote our talents to making the most of the opportunities we have right here, right now in Ossining. It is an exciting moment to participate actively in shaping the change we wish to see for our Village.

  • This Village can turn a sanitary sewer project into a glorious greenway.
  • We have seen empty storefronts become thriving local gathering spaces.
  • The decrease in our energy demand by upgrading to LED streetlights offers enough savings to keep our tax rate increase this year at 0%.
  • We have passed laws to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to open their businesses of tomorrow right here in Ossining.
  • We have invited hundreds of people to live in luxury on our waterfront, and thousands to enjoy sunsets from the new Henry Gourdine Park on the Hudson.

Ossining is poised to see major change happen in our downtown. We have a thoughtful and collaborative Board of Trustees, with a willingness to make big decisions about the Village’s future. Critical leaders of our staff are capable implementing big projects for Ossining. And we have the solid fiscal standing to invest in infrastructure that will benefit our community for generations to come.


Weekly Walks

As we enter this exciting year with a focus on bringing into view big changes for development in our downtown, I am going to add a new commitment to my weekly mayoral schedule. And I’m announcing it to you right now.


When I took office as Mayor two years ago, I established Open Office Hours every Tuesday from 10AM to 12 noon. That routine has been a very successful way to meet with residents who have concerns, questions, suggestions, or once in a while a friendly chat. I will continue to be at Village Hall every Tuesday for Open Office Hours. Emailing me any time is also an effective way to get my attention.


For my second term, as we shift into a focus on planning, zoning, housing, and development of land that is currently owned by the Village, I will be taking a weekly walk. I’ll keep up the routine until I’ve walked every block of the Village. I’ll post my starting place and time on FB and the Village website so that you can join me if you’d like.


A Thriving Downtown

In 2016 we engaged in a public discussion about safe, affordable housing that inspired hundreds of tenants, property owners, housing advocates, attorneys, taxpayers, and elected officials to deepen our understanding of the realities and needs of our community. In 2017, the Village will undertake a Housing Needs Assessment that will provide us with not just an accurate inventory of our existing housing stock and conditions, but one of the tools that will help us make well-informed modifications to our Comprehensive Plan, which drives all local zoning regulations. The discussion about safe and affordable housing will continue, and will be part of a larger discussion about economic development.


Ossining today is, in part, a result of decisions made by past Village administrations. Elected officials in the 1970s bought into the prevailing wisdom of their day, and decided that Urban Renewal was a wise idea for our downtown. The results of Urban Renewal, which demolished two of the five corners at the heart of our downtown, have been mixed, at best. The people living in those buildings lost their homes, and our downtown lost beautiful architecture as well as a whole side of the street which completes the balance needed for a truly thriving downtown.


But as with any major change, there comes opportunity. I am grateful to be Mayor in a moment when we are poised to capitalize on the space that was left by Urban Renewal. Rather than perceiving it as a scar on our downtown business district, I recognize it as an incredible gift for the Village. Where there were once buildings filling each block, we have an opportunity to create a welcoming public gathering space in the heart of the Village. Today these spaces provide parking and host our weekly farmer’s market and a number of festivals and events throughout the year. But the potential for these open spaces to inspire people to spend time in our downtown is no where close to being fully realized. At this stage, let’s not limit our vision to any particular size and scope of what structures may be built in these spaces, or how parking will be expanded.


Our goal as we actively shape the future we wish to experience for Ossining, must be to create a public gathering place where a mother wants to sit and read a book to her child; a place where high school students gather in the afternoon to share a smoothies with their friends; a place where seniors from Maple House rest on their way home from a little shopping up the block; a place where families enjoy ice cream on a hot summer night; a place where co-workers sip coffee during a break from their second story Main St business that thrives in tomorrow’s economy, and it’s a business that we could not even conceive of when we drafted our most recent Comprehensive Plan. And yes, sometimes it will be a place that hosts cultural festivals and holiday tree lightings. But to be a success, this public gathering place must be an essential component of a whole downtown that is buzzing with activity on any given Tuesday—with no festival required to make people want to show up.


In recent years, we’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. A few years ago, the Village commissioned a study by consultants to inform the Board and the community of what a developer would seek to build on the Market Square properties to maximize their profitability. It was almost two years ago, that several community members joined me in workshops and online venues to gather feedback from the community of what we’d like to see happen for these properties. And right now the Sing Sing Prison Museum is closer than ever to becoming a reality. It is exciting to explore how that major institution could impact our local landscape and economy.


I would be remiss if I did not mention the topic of public discussion that elicited an intensity of passion among community members this year, second perhaps only to housing—the roundabout. Construction of the new intersection is planned for the summer of 2017. Ossining will become the only Hudson River community to have a modern roundabout at the heart of its downtown. Because of the dramatically improved safety that roundabouts provide, they are the go-to recommendation by the NYS DOT, and many other states, for any new and upgraded intersection construction. Because even small single-lane roundabouts like the one we will have, require a larger footprint than an electrified signal, roundabouts are often not an option in densely built downtowns. It is only because of the negative space left by Urban Renewal that the roundabout was an option for us to consider in our decision making for this necessary infrastructure upgrade.


So, our job today as a community, is to actively participate in shaping the change we wish to see for our downtown. Some entrepreneurs are already investing their talents, their treasure, and their dreams into our local economy. First Village Coffee is one of the recent new businesses to open and find a very enthusiastic and loyal customer base on Main St. Just before they opened, I was speaking with an engaged community member, someone has spent a fair amount of time thinking about our local economy. He said to me, “I’m really worried that the coffee shop is not going to have enough customers to survive.” This well-intentioned resident grossly underestimated our community’s appetite for a welcoming, high quality, gathering space in our downtown. Let us all embrace more of that faith in the spirit of our community that leads local entrepreneurs to open businesses in Ossining.


I began today by acknowledging some of the role models who inspire me to be serve my community. I’d like to close with a few thank yous for the some of the people who make it possible for me to serve as Mayor. Thank you to the chairwoman of the Democratic Committee Thomasina Laidley-Brown who supports our journey in public office, and leads the process of gathering hundreds of signatures each year to get our names on the ballot. Thank you to the community members who lead great organizations that provide the services that keep us safe and allow our socioeconomically diverse community to not just survive, but to thrive. Thank you to my fellow elected officials for all that you give to your constituents, including me, and all that you contribute to well-being of the Village of Ossining. Thank you to members of the Village staff, those here today and those who come to work every day to serve the people of Ossining so admirably. Thank you to the parents and coaches who drive my kids home from practice when I’m at a meeting. And most importantly, thank you to my family. My sons have an uncanny ability to roll with whatever the schedule is on any given day, they cheer me on as mayor, they are always happy to eat pizza for dinner again, and they don’t grumble as they again go to bed without being tucked in by mom. And to my husband, thank you for carrying the financial burden of our family, even as you work tirelessly to open your new business. Thank you for being my most patient and sage advisor.


Every two years, elected officials in the Village come to the voters and ask to serve another term. I imagine if you asked each of us on this stage, we’d each have a unique story of what made us seek office. But I also imagine there would be a universal theme of our desire to serve this community that we love. It’s that same love of Ossining that brought each of you here to this gym at the Community Center, to share part of New Year’s Day with your neighbors.


We are living in interesting times. All of us have a role to play in the success of Ossining. Sometimes that may be to vigorously debate issues that matter deeply to us; sometimes that may be to show up and listen; sometimes it may be to eat jerk chicken, or drink coffee, or buy a pretty new dress, whatever small investment we choose to make in supporting a local business that day.


And sometimes it may be to lead us in a song. I’d like to invite up to the microphone three very special Ossining residents. Anna Canoni is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. She and her daughters Kaylee and Alexis are going to lead us in singing This Land is Your Land. I hope everyone will join in.

0% Tax Rate Increase!

Seal without box

It is my great pleasure to announce that there will be a 0% tax rate increase with the 2017 Village budget. It is the first time in over a quarter century that Village property taxpayers will see a 0% rate increase. It is a credit to the Village’s ongoing commitment to smart investment in our infrastructure, and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, that the Board has been able to stay more than $100,000 under the tax cap two years in a row.

A municipal budget is not so different from a household budget. If you want to know what a person really cares about, look at where they spend their resources. Village government is about serving the public. And that work is done by our staff. So it’s not surprising that 76% of the General Fund budget is dedicated to salaries and benefits. With that in mind, it is particularly remarkable that we were able to hold to a 0% tax rate increase even as employee benefit costs overall increased by 8.36% (or $859,326). The largest contributor to the employee benefit increase was health insurance, which skyrocketed by 13.9% (or $708,023).

The single greatest savings we saw this year was a direct result of smart, forward-thinking investment in our infrastructure. Thanks to installing LED streetlights, our electric bill decreased by $107,800 (or 22.38%). This is a stellar example of partnering with other municipalities for increased buying power, and implementing environmentally smart technology that provides a better product, at a significant cost reduction year after year.

We look forward to another year of outstanding work by our dedicated staff. And today we say a special thanks to the finance department and village management for their excellent work shepherding us through this lengthy and in-depth process.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees,

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Crossing the Line, Missing the Target

This weekend a group of protesters marched to my family’s home. Before I delve into the proactive and comprehensive approach that this Village Board is taking to improve housing for Ossining, I must address the disturbing decision by this group to cross the line and violate my family space.

LoHud published one perspective of the Saturday event. The “journalist” did not reach out to me for comment, but I will share with you what I said to the CVH representatives that spoke with me at my front steps:

“By coming here today, to my home, my husband’s home, my children’s home, your attempts to bully, harass, and intimidate me have crossed a line. I wish you had not come. I will not discuss public policy in this forum. I wish you would leave my family alone.”

fullsizerender-21Then I left and took my son to soccer practice. On the drive to the field he said, “Mom, I know one of those kids. Can I still be friends with him?” The conversation that followed was difficult. My sons are more keenly aware than most kids of the value of taking public action to further something you believe is important. Having the judgement to know where to draw the line, is beyond what an 8-year-old can fully grasp. But we adults who live in a close knit community, should be able to recognize that line. A family’s space should not be violated as it was this weekend.

Serving as Mayor of Ossining is a great privilege that I take seriously and devote many hours of each day to performing to the best of my ability. However, when I am home with my family, I am a mother and a wife. And the home I live in belongs to my husband and sons as much as me. I make myself available to the public 24/7 by email. I hold Open Office Hours at Village Hall every Tuesday 10am-12pm. And the public is invited to speak at our legislative sessions on the first and third Wednesday every month. It is my fervent hope that this is the last time any politically motivated organization marches on the private home of a local Ossining official.

With regards to concerns related to affordable housing in Ossining, painting me and this Board as an obstacle to progressive housing policies is misguided. It is unfortunate that the leaders of the regional organization Community Voices Heard have dug in on a position regarding one narrow tool toward a goal we all share. A comprehensive approach to safe, fair and affordable housing in Ossining is a high priority for this Board. We have included money in the 2017 budget that is intended to be put toward a housing needs assessment–a critical tool in making informed decisions about housing, comp plan updates, and zoning code changes.

The Village is excited to have tenant advocate Geoff Smith on board as special legal counsel to help us craft local programs to expand affordable housing and tenant protections. We began discussions with Geoff weeks ago, and it took some back and forth to finalize his contract. We formally engaged him as special counsel late last week. Geoff is reaching out to stakeholders as he explores the potential for a creative approach to expanding the accessibility of affordable housing for the people of our community who need it most.

He is also working with the BOT subcommittee (Rika Levin and Quantel Bazemore) to assist them with their task of strengthening the Village’s Landlord Tenant Relations Council. This includes bringing forward legislative opportunities to provide greater tenant protections that can be enacted at a local level. Improvements we make on this front will benefit all tenants in the Village, regardless of whether they live in an ETPA eligible building.

This Village Board has dedicated significant time and resources toward improving affordable housing opportunities in Ossining. This multi-faceted approach to implement targeted programs at a local level is nuanced. CVH is a regional organization that has chosen the blunt political approach of staking out a position on ETPA, a NYS rent stabilization program that CVH organizers are familiar with.

Unfortunately, the bullying tactics of CVH serve only to undermine the hard work that is already underway by the Village. I certainly hope this is the last time a group of protesters crosses the line into family space. Serving in elected office is an honor, but there must be some boundaries respected for the families of public officials.

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The Dream Team

President & First Lady Obama and President & Secretary Clinton,

This week I was elected to serve my second term as Mayor of the Village of Ossining; just a few miles from Chappaqua. Two years ago, I became the first woman elected Mayor here. My sons have only ever known a world where half their classmates are native Spanish speakers, and their president is black. They certainly wanted Hillary to win, but the idea of a woman becoming president was refreshingly unremarkable to them.

Madam Secretary, as I watched you in your purple lapels—your strength, your authenticity, your composure—you gave me hope. I envisioned the four of you leading us as a team. You are the most stunningly intelligent and visionary collection of people ever to inhabit the White House. Will you please be the team that leads our country to achieve the impossible?

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-11-28-11-pmYou don’t need to wear capes. The mere image of the four of you working together is awe-inspiring. With no more campaigns to run, no more offices to hold, you are free from the constraints imposed by the pragmatism demanded by compromise.

The results of this election affirmed one truth—the impossible can become reality. We do not know how our nation will react to the absurdity that will take office on January 20. We do know, that millions of Americans, in fact a majority of voters, want a different path.

I am struck by the unique opportunity our nation has to benefit from the power of the four of you speaking with one voice in this critical moment for America. I implore you to use your status as beloved, brilliant statesmen and stateswomen, to light a brighter path than ever seemed possible: a climate policy that is truly renewable, nuclear-free, and carbon-free; a democracy where the voices of individuals are stronger than corporations and lobbyists; medicare for all; healthcare and agricultural systems that prioritize prevention over prescriptions and pesticides; progressive state legislatures that redraw district lines to reflect the will of the people; and a nation that values women—our dignity, our contributions, and our strength.

The next progressive leaders will rise. But there are none yet who can rival the influence of any one of you alone—nevermind the four of you together. President Clinton, you have set a high bar for service in the world after serving in the White House. It is my fervent wish that the dream team of you four inspiring Americans will help us envision the impossible becoming possible, right here at home. Charting a path for the next four years, unfettered by the limitations of elected office, may be the greatest legacy you could bestow upon our nation.

If I may ever be of service to any of you directly, I would be honored. Meanwhile, I’ll continue serving my family and my village to the best of my ability. That’s about as far as my dreams can reach right now.

With admiration & gratitude for you all,

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Victoria Gearity

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