It took about a millisecond Thursday for the president of the United States to realize he had just committed one whale of a political flub.
“Your outstanding mayor, Brian Higgins, is here,” President Obama shouted out to the packed Alumni Arena on the UB North Campus. “Give him a big round of applause.”
But the applause never came.
Instead, roughly 6,500 otherwise adoring supporters joined in correcting the commander-in-chief.
Brian Higgins is the congressman from Buffalo, they roared. Not the mayor.
“What?” Obama asked the crowd.
Looks of embarrassment, realization and “How do I get out of this one?” seemed to cross the president’s face.
But it didn’t take long for him to figure a way out of embarrassing two of Buffalo’s top politicians.
“Byron Brown. That’s – I’m sorry, Byron,” Obama backtracked. “What I meant was – your congressman, Brian Higgins, is here; your mayor, Byron Brown, is here.”
Then he took a shot at himself. “This is what happens when you get to be 52 years old,” he rebounded “When I was 51, everything was smooth. But your congressman and your mayor are doing outstanding work.”
It was a good try, but cringes spread throughout the arena and Western New York as thousands more watched on television – scrape-your-fingernails-on-the-blackboard type of cringes.
The mayor seemed to take it in stride. “We had a great conversation with the president on the bus,” he said, referring to their conversation from the Buffalo airport to UB.
“He was very much aware of a lot of the things happening in this community, and I think because of the progress that’s taking place in the City of Buffalo ... are part of the reason the president came here.”
And the presidential faux pas?
“It was just a pure slip of the tongue,” the mayor said. “He’s speaking a lot of places all the time, and sometimes – and I know this as someone who speaks at a lot of different places – it doesn’t come out right all the time.”
Higgins was even more succinct. “I’ve been called much worse,” he said. “At least he didn’t call me the mayor of San Diego.”