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City, county vie for lead in attack of swamp things

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Commission President Sandy Isenberg keeps a Mud Hen on her desk.

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The city of Toledo wants bug-eyed frogs. Lucas County wants cartoon birds. Toledo isn't big enough for the both of them.

Swamp creatures are on the minds of city and county officials, and fiber-glass facsimiles could take turns appearing on city streets in coming months.

“I love those big, bug-eyed frogs on the beer ads,” Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said yesterday. “I can visualize the frog poses we could have: One poised, ready to leap. One with a real laid-back kind of attitude. We're looking at up to two or three poses, you know. This is really exciting stuff!”

The mayor says he's wanted fiber- glass frogs for Toledo for more than a year, and he's tired of waiting for bureaucrats and volunteers to move on the idea. He said he intends to see frogs - based on the city's old “Frogtown” moniker - in the city by June.

Two Cincinnati consultants who populated “Porkopolis” with more than 450 high-camp hogs last summer will meet with local organizers Tuesday to map out their next moves.

“We've been talking about this for months, and everyone is taking forever and a day to get to it,” the mayor said. “I don't have that long left in my career to play around with.”

The frogs were inspired by civic programs in Chicago, Toronto, New York, and Cincinnati, which put hundreds of artist-designed, corporate-sponsored, fiber-glass creatures on public display over the past three summers. The animals ultimately were auctioned for charities. But in the meantime, the wacky statues drew tourists and national media attention to the sponsoring towns and organizations.

As the mayor mulled amphibians, Lucas County commissioners hatched a similar idea: They envisioned Toledo's baseball mascot, Muddy the Mud Hen, populating the streets and raising funds for a mental health charity. They had their monumental birds well into the design stages before they put them on ice in September.

Sandy Isenberg, president of the commissioners, keeps a scale model in her office of the cartoon Triple-A baseball team mascot, executed by a Bowling Green artist. The county's close relationship with the Mud Hens baseball franchise means royalty payments are not an issue.

Ms. Isenberg said one reason the plan was put on a slow track was the need for the Mud Hens organization to raise money for its share of the construction costs for the new stadium in downtown Toledo.

“The county is a separate entity from the ball club, but contributors still link the Mud Hen with the team, and we'd both be asking the same people for money,” Mr. O'Neill added.

So the Hens will wait until the frogs have their day in the sun, and the birds will prevail in time for the stadium's opening day in 2002.

“I still like the idea and I think it would generate excitement for the opening of the ballpark, but I think we'll step back and wait and see how the frog program progresses,” Ms. Isenberg said.

“There's not really a turf issue here ... We've kept the city informed on our actions,” Mr. O'Neal said. “There's not room or funding sources enough in the city to do both [animals] at the same time.”

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