BY Kenneth R. Bazinet, Thomas M. Defrank and Michael Mcauliff
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - President Obama tried a little alcoholic lubrication Thursday to soothe anger over a black professor's arrest by a white cop - and his own poorly chosen words that police "acted stupidly."
Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. joined Obama and Vice President Biden around a white table off the Rose Garden last night.
Each got a frosted mug, but Crowley said later no apologies were offered and he and the professor still didn't see eye to eye.
Obama had pledged to have a "teachable moment," but with all the froth around the most ballyhooed beer since the end of Prohibition, the event played flat.
No remarks were made, and the press was kept 50 feet away, brought in after the President, professor and policeman clinked glasses in a toast.
Smiles could not be seen on the visitors' faces, but Obama laughed and smiled as he sipped a Bud Light. Crowley gulped a Blue Moon garnished with an orange slice, and Gates drew on a Sam Adams light.
The glib Biden sat with a non-alcoholic Buckler.
Crowley looked more animated for the media's minute-long look at the powwow, which lasted around an hour. An aide said there were plenty of jokes and laughs, but also serious talk.
"We had a cordial and productive discussion," Crowley said, and revealed he and Gates will be talking more. "We have all agreed that it is important to look forward, rather than backward."
Obama thanked the two "for a friendly, thoughtful conversation."
"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," he said.
Gates said in a statement on theroot.com he and Crowley were brought together by "an accident of time and place," and vowed to deliver the teachable moment.
"It is incumbent upon Sgt. Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand," he wrote.
The President had downplayed the sitdown earlier. "This is not a summit, guys," he told reporters. "This is three folks. ... having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other."
Crowley said that while he did not agree with Gates, they respected each other. "Two gentlemen agreed to disagree," he said.
Political insiders felt the President needed to do something to buff a stain from his image.
The incident had already generated headlines after Crowley busted Gates in the professor's Cambridge home after answering a burglary call. Obama fueled the flames last week when he slammed the cops at the end of a press conference.
A poll by the Pew Research Center Thursday said 41% of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of the controversy.
Beyond ripping a scab off one of America's most emotionally charged issues, Obama also damaged his strategy to push health care reform, veering way off message to a topic that dominated headlines for the next eight days.
Experts said Thursday's meeting was important to get Obama back on track. "He essentially acted stupidly by saying the police acted stupidly," said Western New England College Prof. John Baick. "But it speaks highly of him that he can acknowledge that he messed up, and do this," he said.
As far as a future meeting with Gates, Crowley said they would steer clear of the booze.
"I think meeting at a bar for a beer for a second time is gonna send out a wrong message," he said.
And no one wanted more of that.
More coverage from the New York Daily News.
- Related Links: See photos of the beer summit.