BEHIND THE SCENES — I was able to see a side of the presidential visit that is not shown on televised coverage. Pictured is a boom mike operator, attempting to catch snippets of conversation the president was having with University at Buffalo students and audience members. Photo by Jessie Owen.
HAMBURG — United States President Barack Obama visited Buffalo on Aug. 22, kicking off his tour through New York and Pennsylvania in the Queen City.
I have never before had the privilege to listen to a president live and jumped at the opportunity to travel to the University at Buffalo, joined by the Springville Journal editor, to cover the event for our Western New York publications.
The media slipped into Alumni Arena through its back doors and was assigned a special seating (or, rather, standing) area on two sides of the presidential podium. We joined the growing crowds in watching Air Force One approach Buffalo International Airport and land on Western New York soil.
The president had not visited the City of Good Neighbors since 2010, in a visit complete with chicken wings, Depot Street crowds and the infamous “hottie with a body” line that won Buffalo 15 minutes of fame on late-night talk shows.
This year’s Obama visit may become fabled for a different reason. America’s chief made a dreaded faux pas on the UB podium, when he referred to Congressman Brian Higgins as Buffalo’s mayor. He did a good job of jokingly putting the matter aside, but unfortunately, his mistake brought frowns to the collective faces of many media outlets. I could not see Mayor Byron Brown from where I stood, but I imagine that he may also not have been very amused by the flub.
I was thankful that Obama was in town to talk about education, a topic that I see more eye-to-eye with him than any other. I, too, agree that higher education is far too expensive and am appalled at the student loans that Americans have racked up and, often, simply refuse to pay.
While I cannot condone recent legislation that makes student loans simply go away, after several years, or provides free education to children of illegal immigrants while American-born young people continue to struggle, I appreciate that the president is tackling the education issue, head-on. Obama’s plan is not foolproof. Many questions have been left unanswered and money will continue to be spent, albeit somewhat shuffled around.
I listened to the president carefully avoid telling us privately-educated college graduates that his plan would not help us. But we are used to paying our bills. Obama was correct in saying that, in an ironic circle of life, having a degree will help graduates pay for their degrees. But, despite being left out in the cold, we will do just fine.
Except for one heckler inside and a line of sign-waving anti-hydrofracking people outside, the crowd seemed to enjoy having the president in the building. He definitely knew how to talk to that demographic, which shouted approval for the new education plan and for the continuation of Obamacare.
Kudos to UB for putting on a great display for our commander in chief. Thanks to the president for returning to a city that has a lot to offer. Congratulations to the poised young lady who introduced Obama.
The president’s visit may not have introduced a perfect plan, but it left a smile on many faces and hope in the hearts of those looking for a better future.