Jimmy Griffin, the maverick mayor who calls his subordinates on a car radio when he spots an abandoned car or a pile of garbage, has no difficulty summing up his political philosophy.

"If you feel there should be a stop sign on your street and that sign isn't up in a couple of days," he said, "I chew someone's a--."

Although Buffalo is struggling through hard economic times, the feisty, backslapping Griffin comes on like an upstate Ed Koch, serving up a mixture of blunt talk and insults while promising that better times are just around the corner.

He has lashed out at banks for failing to invest in Buffalo, saying, "Bankers have hearts like caraway seeds."

He has castigated the city school board for frittering away tax dollars. "They spend money like drunken sailors," he said.

And he has feuded with municipal unions, once getting into a shouting match with policemen who surrounded his car while television cameras rolled. "Some of them are cry babies," Griffin said. "No matter how much you pay them, they're not happy."

Few ever expected that Griffin, 53, who dropped out of high school to work in a South Buffalo grain mill, would end up running this factory town. When the veteran state senator declared for mayor in 1977, his announcement was overshadowed by a paralyzing blizzard. And when he lost the Democratic primary to a popular black legislator, most people wrote him off.

But Griffin does not like to lose. He came away with the Conservative Party endorsement and ran a shoestring campaign, making necessity a virtue by placing a $500 limit on contributions.

"I figured big money, big favors," Griffin said. "I didn't want to owe anybody anything.

"We had people throughout the city, starting in the 1st Ward in South Buffalo. My family, my friends, guys I played ball with, drank with. Irish, Italian, Polish. We could put out 100 people on a Saturday morning going door to door."

The race was heavy with racial undertones as blacks rallied behind their candidate, Arthur Eve, but Griffin won an upset with strong white support.

Things were different in 1981. Like New York's Mayor Koch, whom he supported in Koch's losing bid for governor, Griffin captured the Democratic and Republican nominations for mayor, along with the Conservative and Right to Life parties. He disdained only the Liberal Party, and the feeling was mutual.

Griffin is not taking any chances for 1985. He set up the Jimmy Griffin Booster Club, which has banked more than $230,000 for the next campaign, a sizable nest egg in a city where the mayor is paid $45,000 a year.

Griffin's two-fisted style plays well in the city's ethnic neighborhoods. They cheered when he took cars away from department heads. They cheered when he refused to fill 600 city jobs, more than 15 percent of the work force, in an effort to hold the line on taxes. And they cheered when he did away with "soft" jobs, from the six auxiliary police coordinators to the two policemen guarding the mayor's office.

Griffin also keeps a tight rein on patronage jobs, down to the youngsters who work the aisles at Sabres hockey games. "I sign off on every appointment," he said. "Every one."