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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

Zoo's threat backfired

Though we supported both of the Toledo Zoo's levies on Tuesday's ballot - one for operating revenues and one for capital improvements - we also expressed concern that threatening the community with the loss of the zoo's elephants, including baby Louie, could backfire.

Turns out we were right to be concerned.

Lucas County voters provided an easy win for Issue 4, a replacement levy to provide operating funds for the zoo. But they narrowly defeated Issue 3, a one-mill capital improvement levy to replace one which expired in 2005.

The zoo marketing folks made little Louie, now 3 years old and not so little any more, the focal point of the levy campaign, which we believe was a tactical blunder.

Zoo officials said they needed the capital improvement funds to expand and improve the elephant exhibit and enable the zoo to better house and care for Louie as he grows into young adulthood.

Since the facilities are inadequate now, the message was clear: Failure of Issue 3 would force the zoo to get rid of its elephants.

Given the closeness of Issue 3's defeat - it lost by just 897 votes out of more than 56,000 cast - we can fairly conclude that the threat of Louie's departure rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way and influenced enough votes to spell defeat.

The zoo has no choice but to bring the capital improvements levy back for another shot in November - this time with a different strategy.

Let's hope there is no more talk about getting rid of these splendid creatures, animals which generations of Lucas County residents have grown up loving, all the way back to the days of Amber, an elephant donated to the zoo by The Blade in 1952.

Negativism is a campaign tactic never before used by the zoo, partly because the institution's popularity over the years meant it never had to. Zoo officials should be pleased that Issue 3 came as close to passing as it did.

They should also admit their error and work to ensure that when they ask again, their campaign is upbeat and positive.

A Toledo Zoo without elephants? They might as well close the place down.

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