During the first full day of their annual meeting Saturday, Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis and executives of the U.S. Conference of Mayors started tugging the ears of presidential candidates in hopes of influencing a nationwide urban agenda.
"This is a very important moment in time for us as mayors," DePaulis said, noting that two presidential contenders - Democrats Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson - are scheduled to speak during the six-day conference. "This gives us an opportunity to affect the urban agenda for the next administration in this country."DePaulis and Richard Berkley, conference president and mayor of Kansas City, outlined on Saturday their objectives for the annual conference of city bosses in downtown Salt Lake City, telling reporters of their intent to fashion a partnership between U.S. cities and the federal government.
"We will have at least two of the presidential candidates here to visit us and speak to us, and we are very hopeful that this agenda that we are preparing . . . will go a long way to making the mayors' voice strong," DePaulis said.
Among the issues to be addressed this week by mayors as potential candidate platform planks are a stronger effort to battle the drug war, a coherent national housing plan, transportation development and confronting the AIDS epidemic, Berkley said, dismayed that such urban issues were not addressed in the last presidential election.
"We frankly felt that in 1984 neither party fully or adequately addressed the urban issues," he said.
"The goal of putting an effective urban . . . policy in the presidential campaign and ultimately in the administration of this nation will get a lot of attention in the five days of this convention," Berkley said.
DePaulis identified the climate of partnership between federal government and cities, a relationship some mayors said has eroded under the Reagan administration, as an important issue at the conference.
"First of all, the general issue is the partnership issue . . . we're seeking to be a part, on a bipartisan basis, of shaping the urban agenda," he said, adding all the issues discussed at the conference are crucial.
"The drug problem, the crime problem, the local issues that relate to AIDS, infrastructure and what cities need to do to survive through the next decade and plan for their futures are part of the urban agenda," the mayor said.
Some mayors lamented cuts in federal money during the Reagan administration's policy of "New Federalism" that have hampered cities' ability to provide services.
"Some changes have, frankly, weakened our relationship between the federal government and the city and have weakened our ability to provide badly needed services because the funds . . . have gone through the states and not to the cities," Berkley said.
Berkley, a Republican, stopped short of criticizing Reagan, saying "I think the nation as a whole is better off" since the two-term president's election. Reductions in unemployment and inflation are evidence of better times, he said.
But Arthur Holland, the Democratic mayor of Trenton, N.J., and vice president of the conference, reproved Reagan.
"I would say as a Democrat, in certain respects, we're not as well off as when Reagan came in," Holland said, recognizing the federal deficit as a problem, which Berkley said has unfairly cut into city budgets.
Federal revenue sharing, which allowed cities to once enjoy millions of dollars of federal assistance, ended in 1986.
"That meant to my city the loss of $24 million a year . . . that's one of the issues that stacks up on the negative side . . . but our goal here is to find the areas which we can work together on common issues," Houston Mayor Kathryn Whitmire said.