The leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on presidential candidates to make urban issues their top priority as plenary sessions of the the group's 56th annual meeting got under way at the Red Lion Hotel in Salt Lake City Monday.

The day after a speech by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, Mayor Richard Berkley of Kansas City, Mo., said mayors will continue to make urban issues the issues in the presidential campaign."We will make the difference by keeping the urban agenda - really the people's agenda - in full view between now and the second Tuesday in November," Berkley said.

He said in the 1980s, local government has been relegated to a secondary role behind state governments. But city officials need to reinstate their former direct working relationship with the federal government.

Also Monday, Mayor Palmer DePaulis welcomed his colleagues to Salt Lake City, telling them that, "This is the place - again."

DePaulis told mayors that Utah's capital city is a place of rich cultural diversity and magnificent scenery. He said he hopes visitors take away memories of the city's wide-open Western hospitality and its friendly people.

The mayors also approved resolutions on a variety of issues, including child care, drug enforcement and AIDS, that will guide the conference's lobbying efforts.

Later Monday, the mayors were scheduled to discuss, "The National Anti-Drug Strategy" at a luncheon panel headlined by New York Mayor Edward Koch. (see related story on A1.)

Among the scores of resolutions passed in committee Sunday at the conference, one calling for a national anti-drug strategy is crucial, DePaulis said.

"The national anti-drug strategy is one of the key urban agenda items. I think you'll see that on the platform on both the Democratic and Republican sides," DePaulis said Sunday.

The anti-drug proposal, which with the others must next be approved by the mayors at large, calls on Congress and presidential candidates to outline their national strategy to wage a war on drugs.

Presidential aspirant Dukakis addressed the conference Sunday, speaking on drugs, "the greatest threat to our national security." (see related story on A1.)

"I think as mayors, one of the toughest things we've had to deal with . . . is the ability to fight the drug problem at the local level," DePaulis said.

In a recent Deseret News/KSL poll, drug and alcohol abuse was identified by Utah graduating seniors as the most significant problem facing the United States today.

And Utah experts said one in every 12 of Salt Lake County's 60,000 adolescents has severe problems with drug and alcohol abuse.

Such figures affect Salt Lake City's crime rates, problems of the homeless and create other urban difficulties, DePaulis said.

"Right now, mayors have had to deal with this on the street level . . . we need a national policy and we need resources," he said.

The anti-drug resolution recommends the nation's drug problems be a foremost national security concern, and calls for improved drug interdiction and the denial of foreign aid to any illegal drug-source country.

Additionally, the plan calls for "a dramatic increase in the federal funding available to local drug enforcement efforts, and the provision of those funds directly to cities."

A National Drug Education Fund would also be created under the conference resolution, to be funded by a $1 or $2 voluntary check-off on federal tax forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ.

DePaulis said another resolution entitled Federal Fiscal Policy attempts to deflect "disproportionate cuts" resulting from the federal deficit from cities.

"We (mayors and cities) feel the deficit, basically, is being balanced on our backs," he said, pointing to the reduction of federal block grants that came on the heels of the 1986 elimination of federal revenue sharing.

"We used to receive about $7 million a year; we're now at about $3.5 million. So, it's almost a 50 percent reduction in the block-grant program, it's very disproportionate," he said.