Voters in financially troubled Cleveland yesterday voted overwhelmingly to increase their city income tax and to keep a city/owned light plant that has been a perennial source of political controversy.

The final, unofficial tally showed that the referendum raising the city income tax won 74,286 to 34,640. The issue calling for selling the city-owned Municipal Light System lost 38,782 to 69,849.

Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, who had made the vote on the sale of Muny Light a referendum on his 15-month-old administration, told cheering supporters that "the people of Cleveland are fed up with fat cats trying to tell them how to run their government."

The mayor, noting that the tax increase passed at a time when tax-cutting measures are popular, said the Cleveland vote showed a "new direction" for the country.

While the tax hike, from 1 percent to 1.5 percent, will ease the city's financial pinch, long-range financial problems remain, and the city probably will need help from the state of Ohio if it is to market its bonds again, after its default Dec. 15.

Kucinich said last night that the tax vote showed there was no need for a state controlling board to oversee the city's finances, as Gov. James A. Rhodes had suggested.

While Kucinich had made the proposed sale of Muny Light a referendum on his popularity, some analysts said the results should not necessarily be interpreted as vote for Kucinich, who is up for reelection this year.

Robert E. Hughes, Cuyahoga County Republican chairman, said he believed the vote was more a protest against the policies of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., the provate utility that services 80 percent of the area, than a vote for Kucinich.

Referring to last summer's recall attempt against Kucinich, which the mayor survived by 236 votes, Hughes said, "He hasn't improved that much."

In Kansas City, Mayor Charles B. Wheeler, a self-described product of "the Harry Truman School of Politics," foundered in his bid for an unprecedented third term as he fell behind three city councilmen in a sixway primary.

With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, Bruce Watkins led with 32 percent of the vote, Richard L. Berkley was second with 22 percent and Joel Pelofsky was third with 20 percent. Wheeler had 18 percent.

John D. McDonough, head of the Taxpayers Defense League, and James H. Lloyd, a high school algebra teacher, trailed with less than 2 percent of the vote each.

The two candidates receiving the most votes in the non-partisan primary meet in a March 27 runoff.

Since his start in politics as a county coroner, Wheeler frequently has been at odds with public employe unions, and particularly the International Association of Fire Fighters. He has accused the unions of trying to bankrupt the city, and points to New York as a place where strong municipal unions caused financial problems.

Under Kansas City's nonpartisan, council-city manager form of government, the mayor's post is a part-time job that pays $25,000 a year. The mayor's vote counts equally with those of the 12 council members, but he presides over City Council meetings, appoints council committees and committee chairmen, appoints city boards and commissions and is an ex-officio member of the police board.