Ohio State University student James Moyer, who spent the summer with a friend in New Jersey, alerted the mayor through an e-mail message that a mailed print advertisement in New Jersey showed a panoramic picture of Lake Tahoe with the line: "Trade those nights in Toledo for days in Tahoe."
"I believe in marketing Ohio; [But] I don't like seeing Ohio being treated negatively," said Mr. Moyer, who is actually from Cleveland. "It's not so much that I don't have a sense of humor, but I know Delta would not market that way to Toledoans. Therefore, I don't think they should to anyone."
In his e-mail to the mayor, he said: "Given that this advertisement is a slap in the face to Toledoans, . . . I believe the Mayor's office should be making some phone calls."
In response, the mayor sent an e-mail message to Jim Hartung, the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which operates Toledo Express Airport, and asked him to investigate.
Mr. Ford's previously undisclosed concern over the ad appears to have been the crux of his decision in June to withhold support.
Mr. Ford said on Sept. 12 that he was waiting to hear from Mr. Hartung, who on Wednesday said he thought he had already relayed the information to the mayor that the advertisement seemed innocent enough.
Mr. Ford called The Blade late Friday, after receiving an e-mail from Mr. Hartung, to say that he had been convinced the ad was merely a contrast between Toledo and Lake Tahoe and not a gratuitous swipe at Toledo.
But the brouhaha caused the mayor's chief of staff, Jay Black, Jr., to announce in June the city would withhold the money. And with the city in a financial crisis, the mayor said Friday he didn't know where city financial support might come from. He did say, however, that the city would help attract Delta.
Mr. Black caught economic development officials off-guard in June, when he said the mayor wanted to investigate the Delta fund further before pledging any money.
Mr. Black also expressed surprise back then that Toledo was listed as a $100,000 contributor.
"[I said] I'm not going to do anything until this is cleared up," Mayor Ford explained late Friday.
Delta has made fun of Toledo's Rust Belt reputation in the past. A 2001 full-page New York Times advertisement offered an escape from cultural deprivation with its "so-very-very-far-from-Toledo international fare sale."
The ads featured a white-coated doctor with a Delta baggage tag floating over his head that read: "I love architecture. (I live in Toledo.)"
The ad continued: "Take that trip you've always wanted. Visit really old places. Ponder all the things that took place at those places." The ad ran for two days and was pulled by the company after complaints.
The current Lake Tahoe ad does not rise to that level of ridicule, Mr. Hartung said.
He told the mayor and The Blade that the ad seemed an innocent contrast between hard-working Toledo and the lounging resort "Mecca" of Lake Tahoe, which stretches across Nevada and California.
"Toledo is a Midwestern, workingman's town, and we don't have anything to be ashamed of, [the same as] Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown, Dayton, Columbus, except that their names don't begin with a 'T,' and Tahoe's does. It's a tourist town," Mr. Hartung said.
Innocent or not, Delta is still sought by the port authority for a nonstop to John F. Kennedy International Airport, which officials say would mean millions of dollars to the area. And the port authority would like help from the city.
The original plan was for $915,000 in local pledges and cash to be coupled with a $1 million federal grant to create a fund. The local money would come from government and local businesses for marketing and advertisement and, coupled with the grant, would ensure exposure and a first-year profit for the route.
But the port authority suffered a setback last month, when it was denied the $1 million federal grant. Toledo was not among 46 small airport cities chosen for grants by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Airport Director Paul Toth said negotiations with Delta would continue as part of the airport's push for more routes as it competes with Detroit Metro Airport.
Delta was the city's highest-volume carrier in 1997, the year before it left. But in July, 1998, Delta officials said they were ending service to Toledo, Fort Wayne, and other medium-sized cities to concentrate on the long-distance flights they said would be more profitable.
Mr. Hartung said that Toledo's argument to Delta has to be that much more compelling without the "safety net" of the federal money to shore it up. He said the corporate business traveler has to be willing to use the service.
"We need assurances," he said, mentioning Owens Corning, Owens-Illinois Inc., and various law and consulting offices that he said operate in Toledo and are in need of nonstop business air travel to New York City.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick