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There's something about a presidential visit that's bound to generate "gee whizzes" from just about everyone watching.

It began at about 12:25 p.m. Thursday, when Air Force One began its majestic descent over the city's East Side to deliver President Obama to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

"There he is!"

"Oh my God!"

"What a sight!"

The expressions came from among about 200 onlookers gathered in a steady rain at William and Lewis streets.

Sixty-five minutes later, shouts of "He waved to me!" rang through the same intersection as the president sped by in a 23-vehicle motorcade on the way to his appearance at Industrial Support Inc. on Depot Street.

But there might be nothing more exciting than shaking hands with the commander in chief, as several Western New Yorkers did during the president's visit.

Buffalonians Spencer Gaskin, 70, and his nephew, Dorian Gaskin, 37, were among those wearing some of the hundreds of green T-shirts distributed by St. John Baptist Church when they met the president in the East Side plant.

"I feel like I just hit the Lotto. It's something I never will forget," Dorian Gaskin said. "He took time to shake my hand."

Dorian Gaskin first met Obama 12 years ago when Gaskin visited Chicago. When he arrived, the Buffalo resident called fraternity brothers who took him out on the town. One of the men was Obama.

"They called him Barry O at the time," Gaskin said, adding that Obama remembered him.

"The fact he didn't forget people who helped him along the way speaks volumes about the kind of man he is," Gaskin said. "It was a pleasure being in the same room with him, something I can tell my grandkids about."

Christopher Martinez, 10, and his father, Kenneth, both received presidential handshakes while seated in the front row. "I shook his hand, and I'll brag about it," Christopher said.

Presidential fans and protesters alike lined the streets of Buffalo as Obama landed at the Buffalo airport, winged his way through Duff's on Dick Road in Cheektowaga, then spoke to a crowd at Industrial Support. Through it all, local residents were quick to express either admiration or disgust over the president and his policies.

Among the protesters were dissatisfied union members of the Buffalo Police Department carrying placards lamenting the lack of a new contract: "No Contract = No Peace" and "Mayor Brown Needs a Vacation."

Abortion opponents carried signs with photos of aborted fetuses, a handful of "tea party" supporters had signs blasting Obama's health care program, and members of the Seneca Nation held a large banner criticizing him for signing legislation banning shipment of their tobacco products by mail.

Leslie Logan, communications director for the Senecas, recalled traveling to Washington to attend Obama's inauguration in the hope that Indians everywhere had "a new and different president."

But when Obama signed the anti-tobacco legislation that affected the Senecas more than any other native community, Logan said, she felt "disappointed and dismayed."

"It's hard to have faith," she said.

The gathering attracted dignitaries and politicos. Some like County Executive Chris Collins a Republican expressed only lukewarm support for the president's policies.

"[There's] talk of higher taxes on small business," said Collins, noting his own 38 years in small business. "If you don't have the money to reinvest in the business, that's a job lost."

But a host of Democratic officeholders seemed more than happy to be invited, including State Sens. William T. Stachowski of Lake View and Antoine M. Thompson of Buffalo, County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams of Buffalo and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster.

Buffalo Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District where Industrial Support is located, mentioned it was the second time he had seen a president in his home turf. His father brought him in 1962, clad in his Cub Scout uniform, to see President John F. Kennedy at a Pulaski Day event.

"There were thousands of people up and down Broadway," he recalled. "My father took me, and I got close enough to see him quite well."

rmccarthy@buffnews.com; dwilliams@buffnews.com