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THE LATEST POLITICAL MONEY GUY

Somewhere in the Erie County tourist guidebooks, there's a listing for "power centers," the places like City Hall, County Hall and the party headquarters where government is hashed out and local politics is played in hardball style.

But the guidebooks should also list the banks and homes of the "money guys." Their denizens supply the cash that serves as politics' life blood; they're the ones who make it work.

A host of money guys have plied their trade around here in recent years. Businessman Frank McGuire and attorney Arnie Gardner rank among the best for Democrats, while businessman and former Ambassador Tony Gioia raised lots of cash for the GOP -- a role attorney Mike Powers now embraces for Chairman Bob Davis and crew.

That's why it's always interesting when a new money guy arrives on the scene. Someone who has it, flaunts it and wants to use it politically. Count Rick Snowden as this area's new money guy.

Snowden, 53, did not quietly move into town with his young family a couple of years ago. He bought and spiffed up the fabulous mansion on Nottingham Terrace, began hosting benefit parties like the one he'll throw for the Buffalo Zoo on May 14, and dropped his own coin on other worthy causes like Shea's Performing Arts Center.

But Snowden is also a political animal. When he was only 25 back in 1976, he ran against Rep. Stan Lundine on the Republican line. He collects political memorabilia that he proudly displays to anyone who asks, and his scrapbook is filled with photos of him with every governor of New York back to Thomas E. Dewey.

Now Snowden is ready to plow his own money into an appropriate fund-raising mechanism like a political action committee or 527 committee. He wants to raise money for candidates he thinks will make Buffalo great again. He might even run for county executive in 2007.

He wants to be a money guy at a time when he believes government is failing Erie County citizens.

"We've got a slew of officeholders who don't even pay their taxes on time. What type of message does that send?" he asked last week. "Public officeholders should set a stellar example, and we haven't seen that here."

Snowden has a political background, and he has money. That will most likely make him a player on the local scene almost immediately. He thought of running for former Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr.'s seat last year; even threatened a GOP primary against Nancy Naples. He backed off, but continued to hang around.

A lifelong Republican, he's looking to dive back into the pool with a big splash -- maybe not as a Republican. He thinks Democrats are "more in tune with the people here."

"I'm upset with the Republican leadership, from (Rep. Tom) DeLay on down," he said. "There are outstanding historical examples of guys crossing the bridge. Let's just say I'm looking at the bridge."

Yes, there is one complication to all this. Snowden became a money guy in the flesh biz. His radio ads refer to his Rick's Tally Ho nightclub as the place for "stylish adult entertainment." Most people call it a strip joint.

Snowden says he may get out of that business and concentrate on less controversial ventures as he raises his local profile. But you can almost picture his political opponents blaring bump and grind tunes in the inevitable attack ads.

Will the voters embrace a pol more familiar with strip stage poles than public opinion polls?

"We're going to find out," Snowden says.

Next year's contest for attorney general is already the hottest race in town, even if most voters won't pay attention until Election Day. Still, Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester County scored a big one last week when the giant Communications Workers union bestowed its endorsement. Brodsky led the statewide fight to stop Verizon from selling its upstate phone lines.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com