Hey Santa; what’s new besides Ho, Ho, Ho?

Thinking back to the end of 2014, Morton Grove politicians voted to spend more money on a “pre-development study,” to see whether the 8300 Lehigh building, which the village purchased in 2013, would be suitable for a police station.

In 2012, the village hired a consulting firm and asked them to evaluate the police department’s space needs and weigh the costs and benefits of constructing an addition or moving to a new location. The consultant presented its findings and recommended a new location.

Subsequently, the village purchased the 8300 Lehigh building from General Bandage.

The obvious question here is why wasn’t this study done to determine the buildings’ suitability before the village purchased the building?

On January 14, 2015 Morton Grove News received an email from a resident “G.” who stated;

“I was sitting in the former Police Chief’s office discussing the new Police Station when “Mayor” DiMaria called and told him to stop all work with the consultants who were preparing an outline of requirements for the architectural quote. The new Police Station was pretty far down the pike with property being researched, vetted, consultant studies performed on the locations’ viability, land purchased, funding arrangements made with minions at the County and State level and even two other Police agencies (METRA and Cook County Forest Preserve District) had expressed interest in “renting” space inside the new facility for their officers to use.

No explanation was given at the time why to cease and desist. The former Police Chief did a lot of work on his own to make things happen because of the constant foot dragging of the Mayor, Corporation Counsel and Village Administrator.”

At the time we said; “This new information motivates us to ask the following questions:

If all of this work was already done, why would the administration hire yet another consultant to redo work that had already been done and paid for out of tax dollars?
Does a Village President have the sole power to stop an ongoing project without the input of the village board and without an opportunity for public input?”

Here we are in May of 2017, five full years after the first consultant’s report and the now village-owned building stands used as storage and there is still no new cop shop.

On January 12, 2015 there was an article in the Morton Grove Champion reporting that the owners of Prairie View shopping Center were coming in from Canada to meet with Village President DiMaria on January 15th. “It’s a good spot for a grocery store that complements the surrounding area, and we need a good $20-a-plate outlet restaurant, such as Carraba’s*,” DiMaria said.

DiMaria announced the owners’ visit Jan. 8, 2015 at a public meeting called to have consultant John Houseal present the findings of the village’s strategic plan. His comments came in response to a citizen who asked at the meeting what had happened after reports last May announced a Meijer grocery store might fill the space Dominick’s vacated. Nothing has materialized yet.

“What Happened”? Just like all of the announcements from Dan DiMaria, nothing happened. The economy started to rebound in 2014. Money once again became available for redevelopment, but President DiMaria dithered and waffled and couldn’t, (or wouldn’t) pull the trigger. Now, with major brick and mortar retailers like Sears, Kohls and others going belly up like so many alewives, the window of opportunity has closed.

Here we are in May of 2017, five full years since Dominick’s moved out, and the Park View Shopping Center remains a ghost town and now since Produce World is gone there is no food store in town.

The problem here seems to be twofold. First off the micromanaging of village projects by Mr. DiMaria, inserting himself into areas over which he has no authority and no particular expertise. Secondly, the village board is failing in their duty to oversee village ordinances and failing to curb the power overreach of Mr. DiMaria.

Village President DiMaria seems to be practicing the “ready, fire, aim” method of governing based on unreasoned “shooting from the lip” rather than following the collegiate cooperation of working with the village board and respecting their role of advise and consent. And, just as unfortunately, the village board has forfeited their duty by not overseeing the actions of the village.

Our current village administration is very good at making promises and shouting pie-in-the-sky glorious projects, (which never seem to pan out). They act like the uncle playing Santa Claus promising everything that your little heart desires.

Government officials can’t afford to be Santa Claus anymore, especially for what most would agree are non-essential services like consultants. They have to be frugal, they have to ensure they’re getting the biggest possible bang for the few bucks they have to spend, and — in what is probably the toughest thing a politician can do — they have to learn how to say “no.”

A wise man once said;
“It behooves you, therefore, to think and act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.”

–Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1775

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Tax increase?

Now that there is a “legacy” deal for Morton Grove to purchase water from Evanston, it might be useful to look at some of the “nuts & bolts” surrounding this agreement.

One thing that needs to be considered is the new infrastructure that will be required to get the Evanston water to the pipes in Morton Grove. The last “conservative” estimate on the cost was somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000,000, (which puts it in a pretty ritzy neighborhood, but we are, after all on the southern border of the northshore).

Since it is highly unlikely that the DiMaria administration has $90 mil in a mayonnaise jar in the administrator’s office, that will mean floating a bond to pay the freight… and here is where the two latest downgrades in the village’s bond rating comes back to bite Morton Grovers in the posterior.

Doing some quick figuring computing the $90,000,000 necessary to fund the construction and add to that the fees and costs that go to the underwriters along with the “juice”, (interest), that will have to be paid to borrow the money and the dividing that by the number of households in Morton Grove and we are looking at a property tax increase of somewhere between $1,800 – $2,000 per household.

Just goes to show you that “legacy deals”, just like elections, have consequences. Perhaps the administration would like to show more of its’ transparency and hold another town hall meeting… this one to explain just how, (and who), is going to pay the freight on this project.

…and speaking of projects, has anybody else noticed that there has been no work done on either the Moretti’s site, (where the equipment remains parked since early February), or the project on Waukegan rd, (where the site has been leveled and there is no equipment or activity in view).

We are now in prime construction time… the weather is cooperating and the projects are unlikely to build themselves. Maybe the village fathers would like to explain what the delay is.

Morton Grove is a swinging town

On January 10th. Morton Grove News ran an article regarding massage parlors which stated, in part;

Today we ask the question; “Does the change in the massage parlor ordinance mean an announcement of exciting new businesses by the Mayor?”

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Morton Grove. because of it’s Home Rule status, can license the parlors and make them subject to spot inspection.  (Home Rule allows a municipality with more than 25,000 residents or one whose citizens have voted to become a Home Rule unit to do pretty much anything not forbidden by state law.)

According to The Morton Grove Champion,

Village board members voted unanimously at their Dec. 12, 2016 meeting to adopt the new regulations which officials said are intended to give the village better oversight of massage therapy establishments.

(The main thrust of these new regulations increases the fee for a license to provide revenue for the village)

“The regulation of massage establishments is a matter of growing importance to public health safety and the welfare of residents,” said Trustee Bill Grear. “And is intended to prevent the spread of diseases through unsanitary practices and…abate nuisances and unlawful activity.”

Village administrator Ralph Czerwinski said there are currently four massage therapy establishments in the village and that another application is pending. He explained that none of the current ones are suspected of anything inappropriate, but the village just wants to proactively have measures in place.

“There should be rules because it protects the community and provides a healthy and appropriate environment,” Czerwinski said.

In today’s Niles/Morton Grove Patch we find the following:

MORTON GROVE, IL — The following information comes from the Morton Grove Police Department as a record of police activity. An arrest by the police does not constitute a finding of guilt but represents merely an accussation. Criminal charges are often dropped or reduced and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

PROSTITUTION

A 51-year-old woman, of the 8300 block of Callie in Morton Grove, was arrested for prostitution after grabbing and manipulating the genitalia of an undercover police officer at the Enya Spa on the 9200 block of Waukegan Road on March 23.

All of this leads the Morton Grove News to ask the following questions:

  1. Trustee Grear, can you explain why the new ordinance did nothing to curtail the spread of diseases through unsanitary practices… or why it failed to abate this nuisance and unlawful activity?
  2. Village manager Czerwinski, does this mean that the administration saw nothing inappropriate in the behavior exhibited at the Enya Spa or was the action on the part of the undercover Morton Grove police officer part of the village’s proactive measures under the newly modified ordinance?
  3. Finally, not to seem ageist, but Mr. village president, (or possibly any of the village trustees whose job it is to protect the quality of life in Morton Grove), explain exactly what is there about our village that would attract 51 year old hookers to ply their trade here?

This isn’t exactly what we would expect from moving Morton Grove forward.

Promises made, promises kept?

The DiMaria administration claims many things as as fact.

What they have provided are either unsupported statements, or at best half-truths which they  apparently believe that the voters of Morton Grove cannot see the difference between overblown empty promises and the reality of this administration’s failure.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalized economy increasing sales tax receipts.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is higher cost of government and a continued stagnant business tax base.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised more and better senior services.
What the DiMaria administration has delivered is reduced, or in some cases, eliminated senior programs.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalization of the area around the Metra station with shpping and other amenities. They were going to make a Morton Grove version of Edison Park.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is a Metra station that is not advertised or promoted. There are no new businesses or amenities around the station and the area more closely resembles the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side rather than Edison Park.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would move Morton Grove forward. Great sums of money, your money, was spent to hire outside consultants to create a village ‘brand’ and create business. An economic development officer was hired to address the “numerous” large parcels of land in the Village’s “Land Bank.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Take a stroll around town and look at the empty retail buildings and storefronts. These vacant properties generate zero sales tax revenue. The corner of Dempster and Waukegan is one of the most heavily traveled in this state and it’s corners sits there undeveloped and under performing. The industrial strip along Austin is a ghost town.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would maintain village services while keeping your taxes low.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Fines and fees have increased with no appreciable commensurate increase in services. The DiMaria administration has certainly increased Village employees…we have certainly staffed up and created more office space for them. What has the increase in staff done to make things better?

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised to address the crisis facing the funding of our police and fire departments.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? The Police and Fire Pension funds are owed over $20 Million dollars. Where is this money going to come from? Without a business tax base the homeowners are the sole funding source. Right now the 5000 households owe $4000 each to this fund just to catch up!

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration said that we were in dire need of a new police station because the current station was outmoded and presented a safety hazard to the residents of the neighborhood. Once more, the village went into the real estate market and purchased a manufacturing property on Lehigh for the purpose of moving the police into a new facility.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? A vacant building on Lehigh and no solid plan made public as to when, (or if), the new police facility will happen, and, if it does, how it will be paid for?

– Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised openness and transparency.

What has the DiMaria adminstration delivered? A Chicago style ‘political boss’ version of government has done little to nothing to stimulate business or improve Village finances. A use of village resources, (like the newsletter, village web site and village-wide mailings), as political propaganda to promote Village president DiMaria.

What has the DiMaria administration NOT delivered? There is no major food market within the village limits. There is a shopping center on the 3rd busiest corner

 in Illinois going to ruin, even though the ownership was eager to reach a redevelopment agreement. There is a loss of the sense of community that up until 4 years ago had Morton Grove as one of the top 10 places to live in Illinois.

 

Has the DiMaria administration told the truth? Perhaps only half of it, and, as Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanack; “Half the truth is often a great lie.”

Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the election that will determine the future of YOUR Morton Grove.
Perhaps you need to ask yourself a question before you vote this time; “Are you and Morton Grove better off now than you were 4 years ago?”

Morton Grove Melodrama Part 15- Looking back and questioning forward

In February 2013 the daughters of Jack O’Brien, one of the Action Party founders, spoke out on who they feel would be their dad’s choice in the Feb. 26 election in a letter to a local news outlet. Here’s what they said:

As daughters of Jack O’Brien, who, with former Mayors Dan Scanlon and Dick Flickinger, founded the Action Party, we are quite dismayed by the turn of events within our Party which has led to the necessity of holding a primary.

It’s distressing that Trustee DiMaria:

  • did not have the majority vote for the party’s endorsement of his candidacy for Mayor;
  • did, when being interviewed, agree to support the slate put forth by the Screening Committee;
  • Is being supported by certain individuals who do not share the Action Party’s values, and in fact, have publicly denigrated the integrity of Mayor Scanlon and Jack O’Brien;
  • is now subjecting our village to the financial burden of a primary.

The Action Party has always prided itself on its inclusiveness. We have sought out the best and brightest of our opposition and invited them to get to know the Action Party better. Some accept, some do not.

In 2001, our dad, Mayor Scanlon, and other prominent Action Party members reached out to Dan Staackmann to determine his interest in joining the Action Party. Dan was elected as a Village Trustee in 2003, and ran for Village President in 2005…in a campaign marked by nastiness from our opponents—the same individuals who are now supporting Mr. DiMaria.  Dan Staackmann was reelected to the position of Village Trustee in 2007 and, in 2009, ran for the office of Village President and was successful.

During very tough economic times, Dan Staackmann has stabilized the Village’s finances and balanced the budget. This is no small accomplishment! He has provided solid leadership, brought in businesses, improved infrastructure, streamlined operations, maintained services at a superior level, and has done it all with an outstanding Village staff and personnel…and with only a 3% property tax increase in the past four years.

Dan Staackmann is passionate about Morton Grove and has spent about half of his life in public service to our town. We feel Dan Staackmann would be Jack O’Brien’s choice for mayor, because Dan Staackmann is a man of integrity who gets the job done.

We urge you to cast your vote in the February 26th primary election for Dan Staackmann.

Sincerely,

Lori O’Brien Gattorna and Terri O’Brien Cousar

Now, 4 years later, the situation in the village has not improved with Mr. DiMaria as village president. The promised transparency has not been forthcoming, but the current administration has scheduled a “Neighborhood Outreach Meeting” for Thursday, March 16th at the American Legion Civic Center.

This would be a great opportunity to ask Mr. DiMaria 10 questions “On the record”:

  1. You have stated that the new water deal will save residents about $900,000 over 40 years. How much can we expect our water bills to drop every month?
  2. You promised openness and transparency in your administration. Why weren’t there any village outreach meetings before this water deal was done informing us of the various options and costs?
  3. In order to bring water in from Evanston we will need to build waterlines. How much is this going to cost taxpayers?
  4. On February 12, 2015 Trustee Grear, speaking about the second lowering of the village bond rating stated: “It’s not earth shattering”. Isn’t it true that having a lower bond rating increases our cost of issuing bonds? Isn’t this earth shattering?
  5. The owners of Moretti’s,  contributors to the village president’s political party have cut a deal with the village. The deal cut by the village underwrites over 40% of the cost of building the pizzaria.  Why has this administration given a “sweetheart deal” to this political contributor?
  6.  TIF funds from the Lehigh/Ferris TIF were redirected to the Heartland property, (luxury apartments on Waukegan road),  whose owners were contributors to the village president’s political party. Why didn’t the administration use these funds to work a redevelopment deal with the owners of the Prairie View shopping center?
  7. For four years  the village was in negotiations with the owners of Prairie View shopping center to modernize and upgrade the property. The owners have reached out to the Village numerous times. In 2016, they reached out twice. In June 2016, they requested TIF assistance not to exceed $9 million. The Village ignored this request. In December 2016, wanting to start construction in the Fall of 2017,  they offered to lower their request to $7.5 million. The Village has still not responded and the project remains stalled.Village officials are now saying that the owners of the shopping center have broken off negotiations, yet it is the village stalling the dealIf there was TIF money and other incentives available for Moretti’s and Heartland, why couldn’t funds be found to close a deal with the owners of Prairie View?
  8. Four years ago you ran on the promise of increasing the tax base. You hired an economic development person to facilitate that, yet today, there are just as many, if not more vacant storefronts on Dempster and our EAV has gone down which increases the tax burden on every homeowner. How can you justify this failure to improve the business climate and tax base?
  9. There is a village ethics ordinance that prohibits village officers from accepting political contributions from vendors and consultants, yet the village president’s political party has received thousands of dollars in donations from businesses, like Groot that have lucrative contracts with the village. Why isn’t the ethics ordinance enforced?
  10. There is a state law prohibiting incumbent officials from voting themselves an increase in money during their term of office, yet this administration did exactly that a few months after taking office. How is this not a violation of the law?

The time has come for accountability, transparency and honesty instead of empty talk.

 

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 14 – The Power of Incumbency

One of the advantages of being the incumbent party and controlling all the municipal functions of the village is being able to “game the system” to your advantage.

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For example, a recent Morton Grove Champion article , recounts how a challenge to the current Action Party candidates was refused a hearing by the village clerk, who is also one of the candidates running on the Action Party ticket in the upcoming election.

Albers’ objections were filed Dec. 23, making the papers late, according to Board of Elections attorney Menzel.
“Those candidate petitions are presumed to be valid and the candidates move on — even if there were flaws in the petitions — because the time window for the challenges passed,” he said.

Albers maintained that the Action Party nomination papers were accepted a half hour before the clerk’s office opened and questioned whether statements of economic interest were filed with the clerk during the filing period.
Not filing statements of economic impact during a filing period could be “fatal,” he acknowledged, but there is no way to investigate further because of the lack of timeliness.

“The only way to challenge candidates’ petitions and qualifications to get onto the ballot is through the objection process and it has a hard and fast deadline,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate what happened here, but there isn’t a format to challenge because they were too late with their objections.”

So, in essence, there could have been hanky-panky but there will not be a hearing, there will not be transparency and the voters will have one less chance to fairly judge how this current administration is dealing with following election laws ethically.

When you are in charge and control everything you can pretty much do as you please apparently. For example, a few weeks ago there was a village newsletter that more resembled an Action Party campaign piece mailed to residents. It follows, almost word-for-word, the political web site of the candidates running on the party ticket for the April 4th election.

Just this week residents received a post card announcing a “Town Hall” meeting for Thursday, March 16th. It’s funny that this administration which promised transparency decides to have what could rightfully be characterized as an Action Party campaign rally paid for at taxpayer’s expense within three weeks of the election. Illegal? Maybe or maybe not but unethical and politically sleazy? Absolutely!

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Many might think that political patronage was long dead. After all, the Supreme court in Elrod v Burns decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347) and reaffirmed the decision in Branti v Finkle, ( 445 US 507). What the court left standing, however, was what is commonly referred to as “white collar patronage”.
In recent cases the US court of appeals held that the first amendment protection under Elrod does not extend to government contractors. This preserves on of the most highly valued elements of the patronage system the distribution of government contracts and awarding of government money and commission positions as a means of rewarding political supporters and donors.

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For example, the TIF money that was earmarked for the revitalization of Prairie View Shopping Center has, instead, been used to underwrite Heartland ( the development company behind the luxury apartments at 8700 Waukegan Rd, political donors to the Action Party. Money from the Lehigh-Ferris TIF  went to underwrite Moretti’s pizza restaurant, (another political donor to the Action Party).

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Three of the candidates running for the Park District are officers of the Action Party and appointed members of village commissions. It is interesting to see coordination in the placement of their campaign signage,  so apparently there is now a plan in place for the Action Party to have all elected and appointed offices under their control.

Some would say that the folks running the Action Party are gaming the system, but you don’t have to game the system when you can make up the rules as you go along and decide which rules, (like the village ethics ordinance), you choose to ignore.

As the actor Mel Brooks says in his film “History of the World-Part 1”; “It’s good to be the king!

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 13 – We’re off to see the Wizard!

Village president DiMaria, during his last campaign fashioned himself as “the face of the village”.

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Considering that his name and picture are plastered all over the quasi-political campaign literature laughingly referred to as the village newsletter, and his smiling visage appears in almost every local “news” story featured in “the Champion”, you can see that Mr. DiMaria takes his self-styled title very, very seriously.

There has been much talk in the national media lately about the narcissism and ego of a certain politician. Fair enough, but many of the same opinions and comments can be made regarding the Morton Grove Village President.

There’s little question that politicians wield vastly more power and control than the average citizen.

Moreover, privy to non-public, industry-related knowledge affords them all sorts of opportunities (blatantly unethical under Morton Grove ordinances) to substantially augment their income through “insider” trading and investments. For many of them the appetite for material riches can be insatiable.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand
Large bills fanned out and held in hand

Which helps explain why at times the liberty that some of them can’t resist taking with the public trust is so flagrant that (moralistically kicking and screaming) they actually end their careers behind bars. (Does the name “Rod Blagojovich ring a bell?)

One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement.

It’s hardly surprising then that so many politicians (like our current village president) somehow think they “deserve” to game the system. After all, from their self-interested perspective, isn’t that what the system is for?

In their heavily self-biased opinion, if they want something, by rights it should be theirs. So, nothing if not opportunistic, they take from public and private coffers alike whatever they think they can get away with. (Consider the increase in stipend and “technology allowance” that the current administration granted itself without the benefit of public notice, public input or a public vote).

And given their grandiose sense of self, they’re inclined to believe they can get away with most anything. Sad to say, in today’s politics their judgment isn’t that skewed. Which is to say they’re much more often right than wrong.

Exploiting their privileged position in such a manner hardly leaves them plagued with guilt.

In general, guilt isn’t an emotion they’re prone to. How could they be if they feel entitled to the objects of their desire? In their minds their very ability to attain something must certainly mean it was merited. So it’s only when they’re caught with their hands deep in the till and their various efforts at denial have failed them, that they’re ready to admit responsibility, and posture remorse. But even then, whatever alligator tears they might shed are calculated to lessen the penalties for their misbehavior—or the time that otherwise they might be required to spend in lockup.

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Ironically, despite the steadfast ethical values they profess, these politicians can be viewed as “moral relativists” in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is yet somehow acceptable for themselves.
In our village, this raises it’s ugly head in playing “bait and switch” with TIF money earmarked for one project but funneled into a sweetheart deal behind the scenes, or changing a zoning/planning ordinance to pressure a landowner to take actions contrary to his/her own best interests, or something as simple as taking credit for increased businesses in town when there are still an overwhelming number of vacant retail properties on Dempster street, (Who are you gonna believe, Village President DiMaria or your own lying eyes?)

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Whether we characterize the personal “allowances” they make as constituting a double standard or outright hypocrisy, these privileged concessions to self clearly broadcast their overblown sense of entitlement. Which is precisely what enables them to regard themselves as sufficiently exceptional to exclude themselves from the rules and standards they impose on others.

What is hard for us to understand is why the village trustees have forfeited any credit, let alone much of a mention, for any of the “so-called” achievements of the DiMaria administration. Little acknowledgment of trustee Grear, who is, after all, the senior and longest serving trustee. Little acknowledgment of trustee Witko, who, while secure in her seat is defending the position of village president DiMaria while he stands mute and doesn’t defend himself.

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Strange… strange indeed.

The saying “Promises are made to be broken” rings particularly true for them. It’s become almost a joke that the devout pledges they made on the campaign trail bear only trifling resemblance to what they’ve done once in office.

The ability to convince voters that they’ll best represent their interests is what defines their success. Actually implementing what they avowed they’d tirelessly work for isn’t really an essential part of their agenda—which is typically well-hidden from constituents. In short, their campaigns measure how well they can dupe the public, not how well they’ll fulfill their responsibilities once declared victorious.

Perhaps the question Morton Grovers need to ask themselves is; “Are the village and myself better off now than we were 4 years ago”?

The Action Party, and village president DiMaria don’t want you asking that question, but, like in the scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, thunder; “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”. DiMaria behind the curtain

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