Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson told reporters in Salt Lake City Tuesday that eliminating illegal drugs won't solve all urban problems.

In a brief exchange with reporters at the executive terminal of the Salt Lake City International Airport, Jackson said he would deliver that message to city leaders gathered for the 56th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors.Jackson's visit, which was canceled, then rescheduled in response to pleas by some of the nation's mayors, is the second by a presidential candiate.

The Democratic front-runner, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, addressed the conference Sunday, emphasizing the need to battle drugs in the nation's cities.

But Jackson said drugs are not the only urban issue that must be addressed. He told reporters that the country must "invest in people and in America," citing as an example the need for day care for children of working women.

"We need to rebuild the moral tone of America, by all people - black, white and brown, learning to live together," Jackson said. "We have to rise above racism, sexism and anti-Semitism."

Jackson said he has earned the No. 2 spot on the Democratic presidential ticket but said he has not yet decided whether he would accept the vice presidential nomination.

He pointed to first- or second-place finishes in 46 states and expertise in Third World development, which he said will be the focus of foreign policy.

Jackson also said he is the right man for the job if Dukakis is looking for a balanced ticket because he has his own constituency.

Meanwhile, at the conference in the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, the nation's mayors received a letter from Vice President George Bush, who declined an invitation to address the conference.

The Bush letter, an apology for a scheduling conflict that prevented him from attending the conference, said the most pressing issue on the urban agenda is the scourge of drug abuse.

Bush promised in his letter to set up a task force on urban affairs, if he is elected. He would invite mayors from major cities to be members.

"As president, I will insist on stronger penalties for drug offenses. The message we send should be clear: if you are going to deal in drugs you are going to do time."

Republican Mayor William Hudnut III, Indianapolis, said he was disappointed that scheduling conflicts prevented Bush's appearance, but said the letter was some effort to communicate his commitment to urban issues.

In Monday afternoon's session, city bosses confronted the sleaze factor during a workshop entitled "Ethics: What To Do in the Event of a Scandal Within Your Administration."

"Ethics has to be pervasive. . . . It isn't a factor, it is the factor," Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute for the Advancement of Ethics, told about 50 mayors.

Three mayors led the panel discussion, together with editors from the San Jose, Calif., Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The press is a significant and driving force behind the scandals that may plague a city hall administration, said Josephson, a former law school professor who now conducts professional ethics seminars.

Scandal arises when a public official ignores any one of a number of qualities officials are expected to possess, like integrity, honesty and fairness, Josephson said.

"If any decision requires a sacrifice of one of these . . . you may make yourself unethical" in the eyes of the public and an observant press, he said.

"The problem is that you may in fact be acting in the public trust, but it may not appear so," he said, adding that the press will "write it as if it is improper."

"Avoiding even the appearance of impropriety" is essential to a well-functioning government, he said, noting that scandal currently plaguing Attorney General Edwin Meese, although legally untested, has tarnished the Reagan administration.

Josephson suggested several means of using "principled reasoning" to the mayors, telling them to measure all political consequences lest they be "blind sided by unknown constituencies."

Additionally, he admonished mayors to not sacrifice ethical values for unethical values, such as money and power, but he said that "lying for the good of the city" is a matter of personal conscience.

Above all, beware of self-righteousness, Joseph-son told mayors and the news editors, both groups of whom he said are equally guilty of abusing their positions.

"Self-righteousness is a curse for both professions here," added Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut.

Using a hypothetical case involving a mayor who was charged by opponent "Hopper Tunist" as negligent in the death of 42 schoolchildren killed in a bus accident, Josephson pitted the press against the mayors.

"Mayor Blamed for Death of 42 Children," read the headline of a make-believe newspaper. Josephson asked panelists if the newspaper had been fair.

"The truth of the matter is that no one would write a headline like that," said Stephen Seplow, metro editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That assertion brought laughter from mayors and prompted conference president Richard Berkley, mayor of Kansas City, Mo., to say, "I think this is a serious problem that happens more frequently than it should."

The discussion at times divided mayors, some, like Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, who battled public perception of his handling of a 1985 stand-off involving the radical environmentalist group, MOVE, against the journalists.

Goode said through the press, mayors are often subjected to the judgments of reporters and editorial writers, and then "you end up with a very confused public . . . and you will spend the next six months having your decisions second-guessed."